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J Virol. 2019 Jun 28;93(14). pii: e00652-19. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00652-19. Print 2019 Jul 15.

Picornavirus RNA Recombination Counteracts Error Catastrophe.

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Department of Immunology and Microbiology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado, USA.
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA.
Department of Immunology and Microbiology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado, USA


Template-dependent RNA replication mechanisms render picornaviruses susceptible to error catastrophe, an overwhelming accumulation of mutations incompatible with viability. Viral RNA recombination, in theory, provides a mechanism for viruses to counteract error catastrophe. We tested this theory by exploiting well-defined mutations in the poliovirus RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RDRP), namely, a G64S mutation and an L420A mutation. Our data reveal two distinct mechanisms by which picornaviral RDRPs influence error catastrophe: fidelity of RNA synthesis and RNA recombination. A G64S mutation increased the fidelity of the viral polymerase and rendered the virus resistant to ribavirin-induced error catastrophe, but only when RNA recombination was at wild-type levels. An L420A mutation in the viral polymerase inhibited RNA recombination and exacerbated ribavirin-induced error catastrophe. Furthermore, when RNA recombination was substantially reduced by an L420A mutation, a high-fidelity G64S polymerase failed to make the virus resistant to ribavirin. These data indicate that viral RNA recombination is required for poliovirus to evade ribavirin-induced error catastrophe. The conserved nature of L420 within RDRPs suggests that RNA recombination is a common mechanism for picornaviruses to counteract and avoid error catastrophe.IMPORTANCE Positive-strand RNA viruses produce vast amounts of progeny in very short periods of time via template-dependent RNA replication mechanisms. Template-dependent RNA replication, while efficient, can be disadvantageous due to error-prone viral polymerases. The accumulation of mutations in viral RNA genomes leads to error catastrophe. In this study, we substantiate long-held theories regarding the advantages and disadvantages of asexual and sexual replication strategies among RNA viruses. In particular, we show that picornavirus RNA recombination counteracts the negative consequences of asexual template-dependent RNA replication mechanisms, namely, error catastrophe.


RNA polymerases; RNA recombination; asexual RNA replication; error catastrophe; picornavirus; ribavirin; sexual RNA replication

[Available on 2019-12-28]

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