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J Virol. 2002 Feb;76(3):1171-80.

Replication of subgenomic hepatitis A virus RNAs expressing firefly luciferase is enhanced by mutations associated with adaptation of virus to growth in cultured cells.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Immunology, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Galveston, Texas 77555-1019, USA.


Replication of hepatitis A virus (HAV) in cultured cells is inefficient and difficult to study due to its protracted and generally noncytopathic cycle. To gain a better understanding of the mechanisms involved, we constructed a subgenomic HAV replicon by replacing most of the P1 capsid-coding sequence from an infectious cDNA copy of the cell culture-adapted HM175/18f virus genome with sequence encoding firefly luciferase. Replication of this RNA in transfected Huh-7 cells (derived from a human hepatocellular carcinoma) led to increased expression of luciferase relative to that in cells transfected with similar RNA transcripts containing a lethal premature termination mutation in 3D(pol) (RNA polymerase). However, replication could not be confirmed in either FrhK4 cells or BSC-1 cells, cells that are typically used for propagation of HAV. Replication was substantially slower than that observed with replicons derived from other picornaviruses, as the basal luciferase activity produced by translation of input RNA did not begin to increase until 24 to 48 h after transfection. Replication of the RNA was reversibly inhibited by guanidine. The inclusion of VP4 sequence downstream of the viral internal ribosomal entry site had no effect on the basal level of luciferase or subsequent increases in luciferase related to its amplification. Thus, in this system this sequence does not contribute to viral translation or replication, as suggested previously. Amplification of the replicon RNA was profoundly enhanced by the inclusion of P2 (but not 5' noncoding sequence or P3) segment mutations associated with adaptation of wild-type virus to growth in cell culture. These results provide a simple reporter system for monitoring the translation and replication of HAV RNA and show that critical mutations that enhance the growth of virus in cultured cells do so by promoting replication of viral RNA in the absence of encapsidation, packaging, and cellular export of the viral genome.

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