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RNA Biol. 2011 Mar-Apr;8(2):237-48. Epub 2011 Mar 1.

RNA-RNA and RNA-protein interactions in coronavirus replication and transcription.

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, CNB, CSIC, Cantoblanco, Madrid, Spain.


Coronavirus (CoV) RNA synthesis includes the replication of the viral genome, and the transcription of sgRNAs by a discontinuous mechanism. Both processes are regulated by RNA sequences such as the 5' and 3' untranslated regions (UTRs), and the transcription regulating sequences (TRSs) of the leader (TRS-L) and those preceding each gene (TRS-Bs). These distant RNA regulatory sequences interact with each other directly and probably through protein-RNA and protein-protein interactions involving viral and cellular proteins. By analogy to other plus-stranded RNA viruses, such as polioviruses, in which translation and replication switch involves a cellular factor (PCBP) and a viral protein (3CD) it is conceivable that in CoVs the switch between replication and transcription is also associated with the binding of proteins that are specifically recruited by the replication or transcription complexes. Complexes between RNA motifs such as TRS-L and the TRS-Bs located along the CoV genome are probably formed previously to the transcription start, and most likely promote template-switch of the nascent minus RNA to the TRS-L region. Many cellular proteins interacting with regulatory CoV RNA sequences are members of the heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein (hnRNP) family of RNA-binding proteins, involved in mRNA processing and transport, which shuttle between the nucleus and the cytoplasm. In the context of CoV RNA synthesis, these cellular ribonucleoproteins might also participate in RNA-protein complexes to bring into physical proximity TRS-L and distant TRS-B, as proposed for CoV discontinuous transcription. In this review, we summarize RNA-RNA and RNA-protein interactions that represent modest examples of complex quaternary RNA-protein structures required for the fine-tuning of virus replication. Design of chemically defined replication and transcription systems will help to clarify the nature and activity of these structures.

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