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EMBO J. 2007 Dec 12;26(24):5120-30. Epub 2007 Nov 22.

Uncoupling RNA virus replication from transcription via the polymerase: functional and evolutionary insights.

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Department of Biology, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Many eukaryotic positive-strand RNA viruses transcribe subgenomic (sg) mRNAs that are virus-derived messages that template the translation of a subset of viral proteins. Currently, the premature termination (PT) mechanism of sg mRNA transcription, a process thought to operate in a variety of viruses, is best understood in tombusviruses. The viral RNA elements involved in regulating this mechanism have been well characterized in several systems; however, no corresponding protein factors have been identified yet. Here we show that tombusvirus genome replication can be effectively uncoupled from sg mRNA transcription in vivo by C-terminal modifications in its RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp). Systematic analysis of the PT transcriptional pathway using viral genomes harboring mutant RdRps revealed that the C-terminus functions primarily at an early step in this mechanism by mediating both efficient and accurate production of minus-strand templates for sg mRNA transcription. Our results also suggest a simple evolutionary scheme by which the virus could gain or enhance its transcriptional activity, and define global folding of the viral RNA genome as a previously unappreciated determinant of RdRp evolution.

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