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PLoS Pathog. 2015 Dec 8;11(12):e1005321. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1005321. eCollection 2015 Dec.

Disruption of Specific RNA-RNA Interactions in a Double-Stranded RNA Virus Inhibits Genome Packaging and Virus Infectivity.

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Department of Pathogen Molecular Biology, Faculty of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, United Kingdom.


Bluetongue virus (BTV) causes hemorrhagic disease in economically important livestock. The BTV genome is organized into ten discrete double-stranded RNA molecules (S1-S10) which have been suggested to follow a sequential packaging pathway from smallest to largest segment during virus capsid assembly. To substantiate and extend these studies, we have investigated the RNA sorting and packaging mechanisms with a new experimental approach using inhibitory oligonucleotides. Putative packaging signals present in the 3'untranslated regions of BTV segments were targeted by a number of nuclease resistant oligoribonucleotides (ORNs) and their effects on virus replication in cell culture were assessed. ORNs complementary to the 3' UTR of BTV RNAs significantly inhibited virus replication without affecting protein synthesis. Same ORNs were found to inhibit complex formation when added to a novel RNA-RNA interaction assay which measured the formation of supramolecular complexes between and among different RNA segments. ORNs targeting the 3'UTR of BTV segment 10, the smallest RNA segment, were shown to be the most potent and deletions or substitution mutations of the targeted sequences diminished the RNA complexes and abolished the recovery of viable viruses using reverse genetics. Cell-free capsid assembly/RNA packaging assay also confirmed that the inhibitory ORNs could interfere with RNA packaging and further substitution mutations within the putative RNA packaging sequence have identified the recognition sequence concerned. Exchange of 3'UTR between segments have further demonstrated that RNA recognition was segment specific, most likely acting as part of the secondary structure of the entire genomic segment. Our data confirm that genome packaging in this segmented dsRNA virus occurs via the formation of supramolecular complexes formed by the interaction of specific sequences located in the 3' UTRs. Additionally, the inhibition of packaging in-trans with inhibitory ORNs suggests this that interaction is a bona fide target for the design of compounds with antiviral activity.

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