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Microbiol Rev. 1989 December; 53(4): 410–449.
PMCID: PMC372748

Rotavirus gene structure and function.


Knowledge of the structure and function of the genes and proteins of the rotaviruses has expanded rapidly. Information obtained in the last 5 years has revealed unexpected and unique molecular properties of rotavirus proteins of general interest to virologists, biochemists, and cell biologists. Rotaviruses share some features of replication with reoviruses, yet antigenic and molecular properties of the outer capsid proteins, VP4 (a protein whose cleavage is required for infectivity, possibly by mediating fusion with the cell membrane) and VP7 (a glycoprotein), show more similarities with those of other viruses such as the orthomyxoviruses, paramyxoviruses, and alphaviruses. Rotavirus morphogenesis is a unique process, during which immature subviral particles bud through the membrane of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). During this process, transiently enveloped particles form, the outer capsid proteins are assembled onto particles, and mature particles accumulate in the lumen of the ER. Two ER-specific viral glycoproteins are involved in virus maturation, and these glycoproteins have been shown to be useful models for studying protein targeting and retention in the ER and for studying mechanisms of virus budding. New ideas and approaches to understanding how each gene functions to replicate and assemble the segmented viral genome have emerged from knowledge of the primary structure of rotavirus genes and their proteins and from knowledge of the properties of domains on individual proteins. Localization of type-specific and cross-reactive neutralizing epitopes on the outer capsid proteins is becoming increasingly useful in dissecting the protective immune response, including evaluation of vaccine trials, with the practical possibility of enhancing the production of new, more effective vaccines. Finally, future analyses with recently characterized immunologic and gene probes and new animal models can be expected to provide a basic understanding of what regulates the primary interactions of these viruses with the gastrointestinal tract and the subsequent responses of infected hosts.

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