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Virology. 2003 Jan 5;305(1):10-24.

Analysis of RNA packaging in wild-type and mosaic protein capsids of flock house virus using recombinant baculovirus vectors.

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Department of Molecular Biology, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California 92037, USA.


Flock house virus (FHV) is a small icosahedral insect virus of the family Nodaviridae. Its genome consists of two positive-sense RNA molecules, RNA1 (replicase gene) and RNA2 (coat protein gene), which are encapsidated into a single virion. Expression of coat protein in Sf21 cells using a baculovirus vector results in formation of virus-like particles (VLPs) whose capsids are structurally indistinguishable from native virions. However, RNA packaging is not specific for RNA2, the coat protein message. Using ribonuclease protection assays, we showed that the fraction of RNA2 in VLPs is 19% relative to the amount present in a population of native virions. To investigate possible reasons for the reduced level of RNA2, we generated two new baculovirus vectors, AcR1delta and AcR2delta, expressing the replicase gene and the coat protein gene, respectively. The inserted genes carried the self-cleaving hepatitis delta ribozyme sequence at the 3' end to allow for synthesis of RNA1 and RNA2 transcripts with authentic 3' ends. Infection of Sf21 cells with AcR2delta yielded VLPs that contained 66% RNA2 relative to native virions. Coinfection of Sf21 cells with AcR1delta and AcR2delta launched self-directed FHV replication and resulted in formation of particles most of which contained RNA1 and RNA2. However, a small fraction of particles containing cellular RNA was detected as well. The latter particles could be eliminated by infecting Sf21 cells with AcR1delta followed by transfection with in vitro synthesized transcripts of RNA2. We have further utilized this system to show that two coat protein deletion mutants with distinct RNA packaging defects form mosaic virus capsids but do not complement each other to rescue specific packaging of FHV RNAs.

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