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J Virol. 2012 Nov;86(22):12187-97. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01450-12. Epub 2012 Aug 29.

Maintenance of the flip sequence orientation of the ears in the parvoviral left-end hairpin is a nonessential consequence of the critical asymmetry in the hairpin stem.

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Department of Laboratory Medicine, Yale University Medical School, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.


Parvoviral terminal hairpins are essential for viral DNA amplification but are also implicated in multiple additional steps in the viral life cycle. The palindromes at the two ends of the minute virus of mice (MVM) genome are dissimilar and are processed by different resolution mechanisms that selectively direct encapsidation of predominantly negative-sense progeny genomes and conserve a single Flip sequence orientation at the 3' (left) end of such progeny. The sequence and predicted structure of these 3' hairpins are highly conserved within the genus Parvovirus, exemplified by the 121-nucleotide left-end sequence of MVM, which folds into a Y-shaped hairpin containing small internal palindromes that form the "ears" of the Y. To explore the potential role(s) of this hairpin in the viral life cycle, we constructed infectious clones with the ear sequences either inverted, to give the antiparallel Flop orientation, or with multiple transversions, conserving their base composition but changing their sequence. These were compared with a "bubble" mutant, designed to activate the normally silent origin in the inboard arm of the hairpin, thus potentially rendering symmetric the otherwise asymmetric junction resolution mechanism that drives maintenance of Flip. This mutant exhibited a major defect in viral duplex and single-strand DNA replication, characterized by the accumulation of covalently closed turnaround forms of the left end, and was rapidly supplanted by revertants that restored asymmetry. In contrast, both sequence and orientation changes in the hairpin ears were tolerated, suggesting that maintaining the Flip orientation of these structures is a consequence of, but not the reason for, asymmetric left-end processing.

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