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J Virol. 1997 Jul;71(7):5148-60.

Analysis of a recombinant mouse hepatitis virus expressing a foreign gene reveals a novel aspect of coronavirus transcription.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Sciences, State University of New York at Albany, 12237, USA.


We have inserted heterologous genetic material into the nonessential gene 4 of the coronavirus mouse hepatitis virus (MHV) in order to test the applicability of targeted RNA recombination for site-directed mutagenesis of the MHV genome upstream of the nucleocapsid (N) gene and to develop further genetic tools for site-directed mutagenesis of structural genes other than N. Initially, a 19-nucleotide tag was inserted into the start of gene 4a of MHV strain A59 with the N gene deletion mutant Alb4 as the recipient virus. In further work, the entire gene for the green fluorescent protein (GFP) was inserted in place of gene 4, creating the currently largest known RNA virus. The expression of GFP was demonstrated by Western blot analysis of infected cell lysates; however, the level of GFP expression was not sufficient to allow detection of fluorescence of viral plaques. Northern blot analysis of transcripts of GFP recombinants showed the expected alteration of the pattern of the nested MHV subgenomic mRNAs. Surprisingly, though, GFP recombinants also produced an RNA species that was the same size as wild-type mRNA4. Analysis of the 5' end of this species revealed that it was actually a collection of mRNAs originating from 10 different genomic fusion sites, none possessing a canonical intergenic sequence. The finding of these aberrant mRNAs suggests that long-range RNA or the ribonucleoprotein structure of the MHV genome can sometimes be the sole determinant of the site of initiation of transcription.

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