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J Virol. 2005 Jun;79(11):6940-6.

Attenuation of bunyavirus replication by rearrangement of viral coding and noncoding sequences.

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Division of Virology, Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Church St., Glasgow G11 5JR, Scotland, United Kingdom.


Bunyamwera virus (BUN) is the prototype virus of the family Bunyaviridae. BUN has a tripartite negative-sense RNA genome comprising small (S), medium (M), and large (L) segments. Partially complementary untranslated regions (UTRs) flank the coding region of each segment. The terminal 11 nucleotides of these UTRs are conserved between the three segments, while the internal regions are unique. The UTRs direct replication and transcription of viral RNA and are sufficient to allow encapsidation of viral RNA into ribonucleoprotein complexes. To investigate the segment-specific functions of the UTRs, we have used reverse genetics to recover a recombinant virus (called BUN MLM) in which the L segment open reading frame (ORF) is flanked by the M segment UTRs. Compared to wild-type virus, BUN MLM virus shows growth attenuation in cultured mammalian cells and a slower disease progression in mice, produces small plaques, expresses reduced levels of L mRNA and L (RNA polymerase) protein, synthesizes less L genomic and antigenomic RNA, and has an increased particle-to-PFU ratio. Our data suggest that the packaging of BUN RNAs is not segment specific. In addition, the phenotype of BUN MLM virus supports the finding that BUN UTRs differ in their regulation of RNA synthesis but suggests that the interplay between each segment UTR and its cognate ORF may contribute to that regulation. Since BUN MLM virus is attenuated due to an essentially irreversible mutation, the rearrangement of UTRs is a feasible strategy for vaccine design for the more pathogenic members of the Bunyaviridae.

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