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Nature. 2008 Aug 28;454(7208):1123-6. doi: 10.1038/nature07120. Epub 2008 Jul 9.

Crystal structure of the polymerase PA(C)-PB1(N) complex from an avian influenza H5N1 virus.

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National Laboratory of Biomacromolecules, Institute of Biophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China.


The recent emergence of highly pathogenic avian influenza A virus strains with subtype H5N1 pose a global threat to human health. Elucidation of the underlying mechanisms of viral replication is critical for development of anti-influenza virus drugs. The influenza RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) heterotrimer has crucial roles in viral RNA replication and transcription. It contains three proteins: PA, PB1 and PB2. PB1 harbours polymerase and endonuclease activities and PB2 is responsible for cap binding; PA is implicated in RNA replication and proteolytic activity, although its function is less clearly defined. Here we report the 2.9 ångström structure of avian H5N1 influenza A virus PA (PA(C), residues 257-716) in complex with the PA-binding region of PB1 (PB1(N), residues 1-25). PA(C) has a fold resembling a dragon's head with PB1(N) clamped into its open 'jaws'. PB1(N) is a known inhibitor that blocks assembly of the polymerase heterotrimer and abolishes viral replication. Our structure provides details for the binding of PB1(N) to PA(C) at the atomic level, demonstrating a potential target for novel anti-influenza therapeutics. We also discuss a potential nucleotide binding site and the roles of some known residues involved in polymerase activity. Furthermore, to explore the role of PA in viral replication and transcription, we propose a model for the influenza RdRp heterotrimer by comparing PA(C) with the lambda3 reovirus polymerase structure, and docking the PA(C) structure into an available low resolution electron microscopy map.

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