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Virology. 1996 Jul 1;221(1):141-50.

Poliovirus neurovirulence correlates with the presence of a cryptic AUG upstream of the initiator codon.

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M.P. Chumakov Institute of Poliomyelitis and Viral Encephalitides, Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, Moscow Region, Russia.


Poliovirus mutants with extended (> 150-nt) deletions in the 5'-untranslated region between the internal ribosome entry site and the initiator codon have been selected previously (Pilipenko et al., Cell 68, 119-131, 1992; Gmyl et al., J. Virol. 67, 6309-6316, 1993). These deletions were transferred into the genome of a mouse-pathogenic poliovirus strain and found to be strongly attenuating. The deletions can be considered as covering three structural elements, a stem-loop (domain E) with a conserved cryptic AUG and two spacers, upstream and downstream of it. In an attempt to identify putative essential determinants of neurovirulence in these individual structural elements, appropriate mutants were engineered. The results demonstrated that neither of the above elements is essential for neurovirulence. The results strongly suggested that the presence of a cryptic AUG in the oligopyrimidine/AUG tandem followed, at a sufficient distance, by the initiator codon was necessary to ensure the neurovirulent phenotype of our constructs. On the other hand, the attenuated phenotype appeared to correlate with the occurrence of the initiator AUG as a moiety of the oligopyrimidine/AUG tandem. Possible mechanisms underlying these effects are discussed. Identification of the cryptic AUG as an essential determinant for neurovirulence provides a rational basis for the design of genetically stable attenuated poliovirus variants.

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