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1.  High-Resolution Structure of the N-Terminal Endonuclease Domain of the Lassa Virus L Polymerase in Complex with Magnesium Ions 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e87577.
Lassa virus (LASV) causes deadly hemorrhagic fever disease for which there are no vaccines and limited treatments. LASV-encoded L polymerase is required for viral RNA replication and transcription. The functional domains of L–a large protein of 2218 amino acid residues–are largely undefined, except for the centrally located RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRP) motif. Recent structural and functional analyses of the N-terminal region of the L protein from lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV), which is in the same Arenaviridae family as LASV, have identified an endonuclease domain that presumably cleaves the cap structures of host mRNAs in order to initiate viral transcription. Here we present a high-resolution crystal structure of the N-terminal 173-aa region of the LASV L protein (LASV L173) in complex with magnesium ions at 1.72 Å. The structure is highly homologous to other known viral endonucleases of arena- (LCMV NL1), orthomyxo- (influenza virus PA), and bunyaviruses (La Crosse virus NL1). Although the catalytic residues (D89, E102 and K122) are highly conserved among the known viral endonucleases, LASV L endonuclease structure shows some notable differences. Our data collected from in vitro endonuclease assays and a reporter-based LASV minigenome transcriptional assay in mammalian cells confirm structural prediction of LASV L173 as an active endonuclease. The high-resolution structure of the LASV L endonuclease domain in complex with magnesium ions should aid the development of antivirals against lethal Lassa hemorrhagic fever.
PMCID: PMC3917842  PMID: 24516554
2.  Bunyaviridae RNA Polymerases (L-Protein) Have an N-Terminal, Influenza-Like Endonuclease Domain, Essential for Viral Cap-Dependent Transcription 
PLoS Pathogens  2010;6(9):e1001101.
Bunyaviruses are a large family of segmented RNA viruses which, like influenza virus, use a cap-snatching mechanism for transcription whereby short capped primers derived by endonucleolytic cleavage of host mRNAs are used by the viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (L-protein) to transcribe viral mRNAs. It was recently shown that the cap-snatching endonuclease of influenza virus resides in a discrete N-terminal domain of the PA polymerase subunit. Here we structurally and functionally characterize a similar endonuclease in La Crosse orthobunyavirus (LACV) L-protein. We expressed N-terminal fragments of the LACV L-protein and found that residues 1-180 have metal binding and divalent cation dependent nuclease activity analogous to that of influenza virus endonuclease. The 2.2 Å resolution X-ray crystal structure of the domain confirms that LACV and influenza endonucleases have similar overall folds and identical two metal binding active sites. The in vitro activity of the LACV endonuclease could be abolished by point mutations in the active site or by binding 2,4-dioxo-4-phenylbutanoic acid (DPBA), a known influenza virus endonuclease inhibitor. A crystal structure with bound DPBA shows the inhibitor chelating two active site manganese ions. The essential role of this endonuclease in cap-dependent transcription was demonstrated by the loss of transcriptional activity in a RNP reconstitution system in cells upon making the same point mutations in the context of the full-length LACV L-protein. Using structure based sequence alignments we show that a similar endonuclease almost certainly exists at the N-terminus of L-proteins or PA polymerase subunits of essentially all known negative strand and cap-snatching segmented RNA viruses including arenaviruses (2 segments), bunyaviruses (3 segments), tenuiviruses (4–6 segments), and orthomyxoviruses (6–8 segments). This correspondence, together with the well-known mapping of the conserved polymerase motifs to the central regions of the L-protein and influenza PB1 subunit, suggests that L-proteins might be architecturally, and functionally equivalent to a concatemer of the three orthomyxovirus polymerase subunits in the order PA-PB1-PB2. Furthermore, our structure of a known influenza endonuclease inhibitor bound to LACV endonuclease suggests that compounds targeting a potentially broad spectrum of segmented RNA viruses, several of which are serious or emerging human, animal and plant pathogens, could be developed using structure-based optimisation.
Author Summary
Bunyaviruses are a large family of RNA viruses that include serious human, animal and plant pathogens. The viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (L-protein) is responsible for replication and transcription of the viral RNA, but apart from its central polymerase domain, it is poorly characterized. Like influenza virus polymerase, bunyavirus L-proteins employ a cap-snatching mechanism to transcribe viral mRNAs, by which host mRNAs are endonucleolytically cleaved as a source of short capped primers. Influenza polymerase endonuclease has recently been located at the PA subunit N-terminus. Here we show biochemically and by crystal structure determination that a similar two-manganese dependent nuclease exists at the N-terminus of La Crosse orthobunyavirus L-protein, whose function is required for cap-dependent transcription. By sequence analysis we show that similar endonuclease signature motifs exist in almost all known segmented RNA, cap-snatching viruses including arenaviruses, bunyaviruses, tenuiviruses and orthomyxoviruses. This suggests that the polymerases of these viruses might share a conserved global architecture with the L-protein being equivalent to a concatenation of the orthomxyovirus PA-PB1-PB2 subunits. We also propose that broad spectrum drugs targeting the endonuclease domain of such viruses could be developed, as exemplified by our structure of the LACV endonuclease complexed with a known influenza endonuclease inhibitor.
PMCID: PMC2940753  PMID: 20862319
3.  Comparative Structural and Functional Analysis of Orthomyxovirus Polymerase Cap-Snatching Domains 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e84973.
Orthomyxovirus Influenza A virus (IAV) heterotrimeric polymerase performs transcription of viral mRNAs by cap-snatching, which involves generation of capped primers by host pre-mRNA binding via the PB2 subunit cap-binding site and cleavage 10–13 nucleotides from the 5′ cap by the PA subunit endonuclease. Thogotoviruses, tick-borne orthomyxoviruses that includes Thogoto (THOV), Dhori (DHOV) and Jos (JOSV) viruses, are thought to perform cap-snatching by cleaving directly after the cap and thus have no heterogeneous, host-derived sequences at the 5′ extremity of their mRNAs. Based on recent work identifying the cap-binding and endonuclease domains in IAV polymerase, we determined the crystal structures of two THOV PB2 domains, the putative cap-binding and the so-called ‘627-domain’, and the structures of the putative endonuclease domains (PA-Nter) of THOV and DHOV. Despite low sequence similarity, corresponding domains have the same fold confirming the overall architectural similarity of orthomyxovirus polymerases. However the putative Thogotovirus cap-snatching domains in PA and PB2 have non-conservative substitutions of key active site residues. Biochemical analysis confirms that, unlike the IAV domains, the THOV and DHOV PA-Nter domains do not bind divalent cations and have no endonuclease activity and the THOV central PB2 domain does not bind cap analogues. On the other hand, sequence analysis suggests that other, non-influenza, orthomyxoviruses, such as salmon anemia virus (isavirus) and Quaranfil virus likely conserve active cap-snatching domains correlating with the reported occurrence of heterogeneous, host-derived sequences at the 5′ end of the mRNAs of these viruses. These results highlight the unusual nature of transcription initiation by Thogotoviruses.
PMCID: PMC3893164  PMID: 24454773
4.  Mutational and Metal Binding Analysis of the Endonuclease Domain of the Influenza Virus Polymerase PA Subunit▿  
Journal of Virology  2010;84(18):9096-9104.
Influenza virus polymerase initiates the biosynthesis of its own mRNAs with capped 10- to 13-nucleotide fragments cleaved from cellular (pre-)mRNAs. Two activities are required for this cap-snatching activity: specific binding of the cap structure and an endonuclease activity. Recent work has shown that the cap-binding site is situated in the central part of the PB2 subunit and that the endonuclease activity is situated in the N-terminal domain of the PA subunit (PA-Nter). The influenza endonuclease is a member of the PD-(D/E)XK family of nucleases that use divalent metal ions for nucleic acid cleavage. Here we analyze the metal binding and endonuclease activities of eight PA-Nter single-point mutants. We show by calorimetry that the wild-type active site binds two Mn2+ ions and has a 500-fold higher affinity for manganese than for magnesium ions. The endonuclease activity of the isolated mutant domains are compared with the cap-dependent transcription activities of identical mutations in trimeric recombinant polymerases previously described by other groups. Mutations that inactivate the endonuclease activity in the isolated PA-Nter knock out the transcription but not replication activity in the recombinant polymerase. We confirm the importance of a number of active-site residues and identify some residues that may be involved in the positioning of the RNA substrate in the active site. Our results validate the use of the isolated endonuclease domain in a drug-design process for new anti-influenza virus compounds.
PMCID: PMC2937609  PMID: 20592097
5.  Structural and Biochemical Basis for Development of Influenza Virus Inhibitors Targeting the PA Endonuclease 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(8):e1002830.
Emerging influenza viruses are a serious threat to human health because of their pandemic potential. A promising target for the development of novel anti-influenza therapeutics is the PA protein, whose endonuclease activity is essential for viral replication. Translation of viral mRNAs by the host ribosome requires mRNA capping for recognition and binding, and the necessary mRNA caps are cleaved or “snatched” from host pre-mRNAs by the PA endonuclease. The structure-based development of inhibitors that target PA endonuclease is now possible with the recent crystal structure of the PA catalytic domain. In this study, we sought to understand the molecular mechanism of inhibition by several compounds that are known or predicted to block endonuclease-dependent polymerase activity. Using an in vitro endonuclease activity assay, we show that these compounds block the enzymatic activity of the isolated PA endonuclease domain. Using X-ray crystallography, we show how these inhibitors coordinate the two-metal endonuclease active site and engage the active site residues. Two structures also reveal an induced-fit mode of inhibitor binding. The structures allow a molecular understanding of the structure-activity relationship of several known influenza inhibitors and the mechanism of drug resistance by a PA mutation. Taken together, our data reveal new strategies for structure-based design and optimization of PA endonuclease inhibitors.
Author Summary
Seasonal and pandemic influenza have enormous impacts on global public health. The rapid emergence of influenza virus strains that are resistant to current antiviral therapies highlights the urgent need to develop new therapeutic options. A promising target for drug discovery is the influenza virus PA protein, whose endonuclease enzymatic activity is essential for the “cap-snatching” step of viral mRNA transcription that allows transcripts to be processed by the host ribosome. Here, we describe a structure-based analysis of the mechanism of inhibition of the influenza virus PA endonuclease by small molecules. Our X-ray crystallographic studies have resolved the modes of binding of known and predicted inhibitors, and revealed that they directly block the PA endonuclease active site. We also report a number of molecular interactions that contribute to binding affinity and specificity. Our structural results are supported by biochemical analyses of the inhibition of enzymatic activity and computational docking experiments. Overall, our data reveal exciting strategies for the design and optimization of novel influenza virus inhibitors that target the PA protein.
PMCID: PMC3410894  PMID: 22876176
6.  The C-Terminal Region of Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus Nucleoprotein Contains Distinct and Segregable Functional Domains Involved in NP-Z Interaction and Counteraction of the Type I Interferon Response▿ 
Journal of Virology  2011;85(24):13038-13048.
Several arenaviruses cause hemorrhagic fever (HF) disease in humans that is associated with high morbidity and significant mortality. Arenavirus nucleoprotein (NP), the most abundant viral protein in infected cells and virions, encapsidates the viral genome RNA, and this NP-RNA complex, together with the viral L polymerase, forms the viral ribonucleoprotein (vRNP) that directs viral RNA replication and gene transcription. Formation of infectious arenavirus progeny requires packaging of vRNPs into budding particles, a process in which arenavirus matrix-like protein (Z) plays a central role. In the present study, we have characterized the NP-Z interaction for the prototypic arenavirus lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV). The LCMV NP domain that interacted with Z overlapped with a previously documented C-terminal domain that counteracts the host type I interferon (IFN) response. However, we found that single amino acid mutations that affect the anti-IFN function of LCMV NP did not disrupt the NP-Z interaction, suggesting that within the C-terminal region of NP different amino acid residues critically contribute to these two distinct and segregable NP functions. A similar NP-Z interaction was confirmed for the HF arenavirus Lassa virus (LASV). Notably, LCMV NP interacted similarly with both LCMV Z and LASV Z, while LASV NP interacted only with LASV Z. Our results also suggest the presence of a conserved protein domain within NP but with specific amino acid residues playing key roles in determining the specificity of NP-Z interaction that may influence the viability of reassortant arenaviruses. In addition, this NP-Z interaction represents a potential target for the development of antiviral drugs to combat human-pathogenic arenaviruses.
PMCID: PMC3233175  PMID: 21976642
7.  Characterization of PA-N terminal domain of Influenza A polymerase reveals sequence specific RNA cleavage 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(17):8289-8299.
Influenza virus uses a unique cap-snatching mechanism characterized by hijacking and cleavage of host capped pre-mRNAs, resulting in short capped RNAs, which are used as primers for viral mRNA synthesis. The PA subunit of influenza polymerase carries the endonuclease activity that catalyzes the host mRNA cleavage reaction. Here, we show that PA is a sequence selective endonuclease with distinct preference to cleave at the 3′ end of a guanine (G) base in RNA. The G specificity is exhibited by the native influenza polymerase complex associated with viral ribonucleoprotein particles and is conferred by an intrinsic G specificity of the isolated PA endonuclease domain PA-Nter. In addition, RNA cleavage site choice by the full polymerase is also guided by cap binding to the PB2 subunit, from which RNA cleavage preferentially occurs at the 12th nt downstream of the cap. However, if a G residue is present in the region of 10–13 nucleotides from the cap, cleavage preferentially occurs at G. This is the first biochemical evidence of influenza polymerase PA showing intrinsic sequence selective endonuclease activity.
PMCID: PMC3783182  PMID: 23847103
8.  RNA polymerase of influenza virus. IV. Catalytic properties of the capped RNA endonuclease associated with the RNA polymerase. 
Nucleic Acids Research  1983;11(11):3637-3649.
Catalytic properties of the capped RNA-specific endonuclease associated with the influenza virus RNA polymerase were analyzed with use of synthetic hetero- and homopolymers containing 32P-labeled CAP structures at their 5' termini. The endonuclease displays its intrinsic activity provided that substrate RNA contains both the CAP-1 structure (m7GpppGm) and either A or U residues at 9 to 11 nucleotides distant from the CAP structure. Independent recognition of multiple RNA signals by the endonuclease was further supported by the findings that dinucleotide ApG, free CAP structures and RNA without the CAP structure inhibited the endonuclease activity to different extents. In the presence of four species of ribonucleoside 5'-triphosphates, the endonucleolytically cleaved fragments with the CAP-1 structure were incorporated into polynucleotides, supporting the concept that they are used as the primers for the transcription. The initial nucleotide linked to the primers was a G residue, the nucleotide complementary to the second base of the 3' termini of the vRNA segments.
PMCID: PMC325992  PMID: 6856461
9.  Characterization of the Genomic Promoter of the Prototypic Arenavirus Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus†  
Journal of Virology  2003;77(2):1184-1194.
The genome of the prototypic arenavirus lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) consists of two negative-sense, single-strand RNA segments designated L and S. Arenavirus genomes exhibit high sequence conservation at their 3′ ends. All arenavirus genomes examined to date have a conserved terminal sequence element (3′-terminal 20 nucleotides [nt]) thought to be a highly conserved viral promoter. Terminal complementarity between the 5′ and 3′ ends of the L and S RNAs predicts the formation of a thermodynamically stable panhandle structure that could contribute to the control of RNA synthesis. We investigated these issues by using a transcription- and replication-competent minireplicon system. A series of overlapping deletions spanning the 3′-terminal 20-nt region of an LCMV minigenome (MG) was generated, and the mutant MGs were analyzed for their activity as templates for RNA synthesis by the LCMV polymerase. The minimal LCMV genomic promoter was found to be contained within the 3′-terminal 19 nt. Substitution of C for G at the last 3′-end nucleotide position in the MG resulted in nondetection of RNA transcription or replication, whereas the addition of a C at the 3′ end did not have any significant affect on RNA synthesis mediated by the LCMV polymerase. All other mutations introduced within the 3′-terminal 19 nt of the MG resulted in undetectable levels of promoter activity. Deletions and nucleotide substitutions within the MG 5′ end that disrupted terminal complementarity abolished chloramphenicol acetyltransferase expression and RNA synthesis mediated by the LCMV polymerase. These findings indicate that both sequence specificity within the 3′-terminal 19 nt and the integrity of the predicted panhandle structure appear to be required for efficient RNA synthesis mediated by the LCMV polymerase.
PMCID: PMC140842  PMID: 12502835
10.  Genetic and Biochemical Evidence for an Oligomeric Structure of the Functional L Polymerase of the Prototypic Arenavirus Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus 
Journal of Virology  2005;79(11):7262-7268.
The arenavirus L protein has the characteristic sequence motifs conserved among the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase L proteins of negative-strand (NS) RNA viruses. Studies based on the use of reverse-genetics approaches have provided direct experimental evidence of the key role played by the arenavirus L protein in viral-RNA synthesis. Sequence alignment shows six conserved domains among L proteins of NS RNA viruses. The proposed polymerase module of L is located within its domain III, which contains highly conserved amino acids within motifs designated A and C. We have examined the role of these conserved residues in the polymerase activity of the L protein of the prototypic arenavirus, lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV), in vivo using a minigenome rescue assay. We show here that the presence of sequence SDD, a characteristic of motif C of segmented NS RNA viruses, as well as the presence of the highly conserved D residue within motif A of L proteins, is strictly required for the polymerase activity of the LCMV L protein. The strong dominant negative phenotype associated with many of the mutants examined and results from coimmunoprecipitation studies provided genetic and biochemical evidence, respectively, for the requirement of the L-L interaction for the polymerase activity of the LCMV L protein.
PMCID: PMC1112119  PMID: 15890965
11.  Dual Role of the Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus Intergenic Region in Transcription Termination and Virus Propagation 
Journal of Virology  2005;79(7):4519-4526.
Each genome segment of the prototypic arenavirus lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV), encodes two genes in ambisense orientation, separated by an intergenic region (IGR). The 3′ ends of subgenomic viral mRNAs have been mapped to a stem-loop structure within the IGR, suggesting structure-dependent transcription termination. We have studied the role of the LCMV IGR by using a minigenome (MG) rescue system based on RNA analogues of the short genome segment. An ambisense MG coding for chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) and green fluorescent protein reporter genes instead of the nucleoprotein and glycoprotein open reading frames, respectively, served as a template for synthesis of full-length anti-MG (aMG) replicate and subgenomic size mRNA for reporter gene expression. An analogous MG without IGR was amplified by the virus polymerase with equal efficiency, but subgenomic mRNA was undetectable. Reporter gene expression from IGR-deficient aMG CAT-sense RNA of genomic length was approximately 5-fold less efficient than that from subgenomic CAT mRNA derived from an IGR-containing MG, but at least 100-fold more efficient than that from a T7 RNA polymerase transcript with the same sequence. Therefore, in the absence of IGR-mediated transcription termination, a fraction of full-length aMG RNA appears to behave as bona fide mRNA. Unexpectedly, MGs without IGR were dramatically impaired in their ability to passage reporter gene activity via infectious virus-like particles. These data suggest that the LCMV IGR serves individual functions in transcription termination for enhanced gene expression and in the virus assembly and/or budding, which are required for the efficient propagation of LCMV infectivity.
PMCID: PMC1061552  PMID: 15767453
12.  Role of the Host Cell's Unfolded Protein Response in Arenavirus Infection▿  
Journal of Virology  2010;85(4):1662-1670.
Arenaviruses are enveloped RNA viruses with a nonlytic life cycle that cause acute and persistent infections. Here, we investigated the role of the host cell's unfolded protein response (UPR) in infection of the prototypic arenavirus lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV). In mammalian cells, the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) chaperone protein GRP78/BiP functions as the principal sensor for the induction of the UPR and interacts with three mediators: kinase/endonuclease inositol-requiring protein 1 (IRE1), PKR-like ER kinase (PERK), and activating transcription factor 6 (ATF6). Acute infection with LCMV resulted in a selective induction of the ATF6-regulated branch of the UPR, whereas pathways controlled by PERK and IRE1 were neither activated nor blocked. Expression of individual LCMV proteins revealed that the viral glycoprotein precursor (GPC), but not that of other viral proteins, was responsible for the induction of ATF6. Rapid downregulation of the viral GPC during transition from acute to persistent LCMV infection restored basal levels of UPR signaling. To address a possible role of ATF6 signaling in LCMV infection, we used cells deficient in site 2 protease (S2P), a metalloprotease required for the activation of ATF6. Cells deficient in S2P showed significantly lower levels of production of infectious virus during acute but not persistent infection, indicating a requirement for ATF6-mediated signaling for optimal virus multiplication. In summary, acute LCMV infection seems to selectively induce the ATF6-regulated branch of the UPR that is likely beneficial for virus replication and cell viability, but it avoids induction of PERK and IRE1, whose activation may be detrimental for virus and the host cell.
PMCID: PMC3028902  PMID: 21106748
13.  An Arenavirus RING (Zinc-Binding) Protein Binds the Oncoprotein Promyelocyte Leukemia Protein (PML) and Relocates PML Nuclear Bodies to the Cytoplasm 
Journal of Virology  1998;72(1):758-766.
The promyelocytic leukemia protein (PML) forms nuclear bodies which are altered in some disease conditions. We report that the cytoplasmic RNA virus lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) influences the distribution of PML bodies. In cells infected with LCMV, the Z protein and PML form large bodies primarily in the cytoplasm. Transient transfection studies indicate that Z alone is sufficient to redistribute PML to the cytoplasm and that PML and Z colocalize. Coimmunoprecipitation studies show specific interaction between PML and Z proteins. A similar result was observed with a Z protein from another arenavirus, Lassa virus, suggesting that this is a general feature of the Arenaviridae. Genetically engineered mutations in PML were used to show that the Z protein binds the N-terminal region of PML and does not need the PML RING or the nuclear localization signal to colocalize. The Z protein acts dominantly to overcome the diffuse phenotype observed in several PML mutants. The interaction between PML and Z may influence certain unique characteristics of arenavirus infection.
PMCID: PMC109432  PMID: 9420283
14.  Mutagenic Analysis of the 5′ Arm of the Influenza A Virus Virion RNA Promoter Defines the Sequence Requirements for Endonuclease Activity 
Journal of Virology  2001;75(1):134-142.
Short synthetic influenza virus-like RNAs derived from influenza virus promoter sequences were examined for their ability to stimulate the endonuclease activity of recombinant influenza virus polymerase complexes in vitro, an activity that is required for the cap-snatching activity of primers from host pre-mRNA. An extensive set of point mutants of the 5′ arm of the influenza A virus viral RNA (vRNA) was constructed to determine the cis-acting elements which influenced endonuclease activity. Activity was found to be dependent on three features of the conserved vRNA termini: (i) the presence of the 5′ hairpin loop structure, (ii) the identity of residues at positions 5 and 10 bases from the 5′ terminus, and (iii) the presence of base pair interactions between the 5′ and 3′ segment ends. Further experiments discounted a role for the vRNA U track in endonuclease activation. This study represents the first mutagenic analysis of the influenza virus promoter with regard to endonuclease activity.
PMCID: PMC113906  PMID: 11119582
15.  Endonuclease Substrate Selectivity Characterized with Full-Length PA of Influenza A Virus Polymerase 
Virology  2012;433(1):27-34.
The influenza A polymerase is a heterotrimer which transcribes viral mRNAs and replicates the viral genome. To initiate synthesis of mRNA, the polymerase binds a host pre-mRNA and cleaves a short primer downstream of the 5′ end cap structure. The N-terminal domain of PA has been demonstrated to have endonuclease activity in vitro. Here we sought to better understand the biochemical nature of the PA endonuclease by developing an improved assay using full-length PA protein. This full-length protein is active against both RNA and DNA in a cap-independent manner and can use several different divalent cations as cofactors, which affects the secondary structure of the full-length PA. Our in vitro assay was also able to demonstrate the minimal substrate size and sequence selectivity of the PA protein, which is crucial information for inhibitor design. Finally, we confirmed the observed endonuclease activity of the full-length PA with a FRET-based assay.
PMCID: PMC3647620  PMID: 22841552
Influenza A Virus; polymerase; endonuclease
16.  Regulation of Influenza RNA Polymerase Activity and the Switch between Replication and Transcription by the Concentrations of the vRNA 5’ End, the Cap Source, and of the Polymerase† 
Biochemistry  2010;49(47):10208-10215.
The influenza RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) both replicates the flu's RNA genome and transcribes its mRNA. Replication occurs de novo; however, initiation of transcription requires a 7-methylguanosine 5’ capped primer that is “snatched” from host mRNA via endonuclease and cap binding functions of the influenza polymerase. A key question is how the virus regulates the relative amounts of transcription and replication. We found that the concentration of a capped cellular mRNA, the concentration of the 5’-end of the viral RNA, and the concentration of RdRp all regulate the relative amounts of replication versus transcription. The host mRNA, from which the RdRp snatches its capped primer, acts to upregulate transcription and repress replication. Elevated concentrations of the RdRp itself switch the influenza polymerase towards replication, likely through an oligomerization of the polymerase. The 5’-end of the vRNA template both activates replication and inhibits transcription of the vRNA template, thereby indicating that RdRp contains an allosteric binding site for the 5’ end of the vRNA template. These data provides insights into the regulation of RdRp throughout the viral life cycle and how it synthesizes the appropriate amounts of viral mRNA and replication products (vRNA and cRNA).
PMCID: PMC3059263  PMID: 21033726
17.  Role of the Virus Nucleoprotein in the Regulation of Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus Transcription and RNA Replication 
Journal of Virology  2003;77(6):3882-3887.
The prototypic arenavirus lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) has a bisegmented negative-strand RNA genome. Each segment carries two viral genes in opposite orientation and separated by an intergenic region (IGR). The RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) L of LCMV produces subgenomic mRNA and full-length genomic and antigenomic RNA species in two different processes termed transcription and replication, respectively. It is widely accepted that intracellular nucleoprotein (NP) levels regulate these two processes. Intracellular NP levels increase during the course of the infection, resulting in the unfolding of secondary RNA structures within the IGR. Structure-dependent transcription termination at the IGR is thereby attenuated, promoting replication of genome and antigenome RNA species. To test this hypothesis, we established a helper-virus-free minigenome (MG) system where intracellular synthesis of an S segment analogue from a plasmid is driven by RNA polymerase I. Cotransfection with two additional plasmids expressing the minimal viral trans-acting factors L and NP under control of RNA polymerase II allowed for RNA synthesis mediated by the intracellularly reconstituted LCMV polymerase. Both processes, transcription and replication, were strictly dependent on NP. However, both were equally enhanced by incrementally increasing amounts of NP up to levels in the range of those in LCMV-infected cells. Our data are consistent with a central role for NP in transcription and replication of the LCMV genome, but they do not support the participation of NP levels in balancing the two processes.
PMCID: PMC149515  PMID: 12610166
18.  An N-Terminal Region of Lassa Virus L Protein Plays a Critical Role in Transcription but Not Replication of the Virus Genome ▿ †  
Journal of Virology  2009;84(4):1934-1944.
The central domain of the 200-kDa Lassa virus L protein is a putative RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. N- and C-terminal domains may harbor enzymatic functions important for viral mRNA synthesis, including capping enzymes or cap-snatching endoribonucleases. In the present study, we have employed a large-scale mutagenesis approach to map functionally relevant residues in these regions. The main targets were acidic (Asp and Glu) and basic residues (Lys and Arg) known to form catalytic and binding sites of capping enzymes and endoribonucleases. A total of 149 different mutants were generated and tested in the Lassa virus replicon system. Nearly 25% of evolutionarily highly conserved acidic and basic side chains were dispensable for function of L protein in the replicon context. The vast majority of the remaining mutants had defects in both transcription and replication. Seven residues (Asp-89, Glu-102, Asp-119, Lys-122, Asp-129, Glu-180, and Arg-185) were selectively important for mRNA synthesis. The phenotype was particularly pronounced for Asp-89, Glu-102, and Asp-129, which were indispensable for transcription but could be replaced by a variety of amino acid residues without affecting genome replication. Bioinformatics disclosed the remote similarity of this region to type IIs endonucleases. The mutagenesis was complemented by experiments with the RNA polymerase II inhibitor α-amanitin, demonstrating dependence of viral transcription from the cellular mRNA pool. In conclusion, this paper describes an N-terminal region in L protein being important for mRNA, but not genome synthesis. Bioinformatics and cell biological experiments lend support to the hypothesis that this region could be part of a cap-snatching enzyme.
PMCID: PMC2812395  PMID: 20007273
19.  Structural Analysis of Specific Metal Chelating Inhibitor Binding to the Endonuclease Domain of Influenza pH1N1 (2009) Polymerase 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(8):e1002831.
It is generally recognised that novel antiviral drugs, less prone to resistance, would be a desirable alternative to current drug options in order to be able to treat potentially serious influenza infections. The viral polymerase, which performs transcription and replication of the RNA genome, is an attractive target for antiviral drugs since potent polymerase inhibitors could directly stop viral replication at an early stage. Recent structural studies on functional domains of the heterotrimeric polymerase, which comprises subunits PA, PB1 and PB2, open the way to a structure based approach to optimise inhibitors of viral replication. In particular, the unique cap-snatching mechanism of viral transcription can be inhibited by targeting either the PB2 cap-binding or PA endonuclease domains. Here we describe high resolution X-ray co-crystal structures of the 2009 pandemic H1N1 (pH1N1) PA endonuclease domain with a series of specific inhibitors, including four diketo compounds and a green tea catechin, all of which chelate the two critical manganese ions in the active site of the enzyme. Comparison of the binding mode of the different compounds and that of a mononucleotide phosphate highlights, firstly, how different substituent groups on the basic metal binding scaffold can be orientated to bind in distinct sub-pockets within the active site cavity, and secondly, the plasticity of certain structural elements of the active site cavity, which result in induced fit binding. These results will be important in optimising the design of more potent inhibitors targeting the cap-snatching endonuclease activity of influenza virus polymerase.
Author Summary
The 2009 influenza pandemic, the on-going potential threat of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian strains and the widespread occurrence of resistance to current anti-influenza drugs targeting the neuraminidase or the M2 ion channel, all highlight the need for alternative therapeutic options to treat serious influenza infections in the absence of protection by vaccination. The viral polymerase, which performs transcription and replication of the RNA genome, is an attractive target for novel antiviral drugs since potent polymerase inhibitors will directly stall replication. The heterotrimeric polymerase performs transcription by a unique cap-snatching mechanism, which involves host pre-mRNA cap-binding and endonucleolytic cleavage by the PB2 and PA subunits respectively. Crystal structures of both the PB2 cap-binding and PA nuclease domains are now available allowing structure-guided optimisation of cap-snatching inhibitors. Here we present a series of co-crystal structures of the 2009 pandemic H1N1 PA endonuclease domain that reveal the binding mode of several known endonuclease inhibitors. All inhibitors chelate the two manganese ions in the active site of the nuclease but different extensions to the metal binding scaffold bind in distinct sub-pockets of the active site cavity. These results highlight the value of structure-based approaches to the development of more potent influenza polymerase inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC3410856  PMID: 22876177
20.  Mutational Analysis of the Binding Pockets of the Diketo Acid Inhibitor L-742,001 in the Influenza Virus PA Endonuclease 
Journal of Virology  2013;87(19):10524-10538.
The influenza virus PA endonuclease, which cleaves capped host pre-mRNAs to initiate synthesis of viral mRNA, is a prime target for antiviral therapy. The diketo acid compound L-742,001 was previously identified as a potent inhibitor of the influenza virus endonuclease reaction, but information on its precise binding mode to PA or potential resistance profile is limited. Computer-assisted docking of L-742,001 into the crystal structure of inhibitor-free N-terminal PA (PA-Nter) indicated a binding orientation distinct from that seen in a recent crystallographic study with L-742,001-bound PA-Nter (R. M. DuBois et al., PLoS Pathog. 8:e1002830, 2012). A comprehensive mutational analysis was performed to determine which amino acid changes within the catalytic center of PA or its surrounding hydrophobic pockets alter the antiviral sensitivity to L-742,001 in cell culture. Marked (up to 20-fold) resistance to L-742,001 was observed for the H41A, I120T, and G81F/V/T mutant forms of PA. Two- to 3-fold resistance was seen for the T20A, L42T, and V122T mutants, and the R124Q and Y130A mutants were 3-fold more sensitive to L-742,001. Several mutations situated at noncatalytic sites in PA had no or only marginal impact on the enzymatic functionality of viral ribonucleoprotein complexes reconstituted in cell culture, consistent with the less conserved nature of these PA residues. Our data provide relevant insights into the binding mode of L-742,001 in the PA endonuclease active site. In addition, we predict some potential resistance sites that should be taken into account during optimization of PA endonuclease inhibitors toward tight binding in any of the hydrophobic pockets surrounding the catalytic center of the enzyme.
PMCID: PMC3807387  PMID: 23824822
21.  Selected host cell capped RNA fragments prime influenza viral RNA transcription in vivo. 
Nucleic Acids Research  1981;9(17):4423-4436.
Influenza viral RNA transcription in vitro is primed by capped RNA fragments cleaved from capped RNAs by a viral endonuclease. The present study was undertaken to determine whether the specificities of the viral endonuclease and transcriptase observed in in vitro studies are also observed in the infected cell. The NS (nonstructural) gene of influenza WSN virus was cloned in pBR322 by using a double-stranded DNA containing a cDNA copy of both virion RNA (vRNA) and in vivo viral mRNA. We determined the 5' terminal sequence of the particular NS viral mRNA molecule which was cloned and also the 5' terminal sequences of the entire population of in vivo NS viral mRNAs synthesized in two different cell lines. For the latter determination we used a restriction fragment from the cloned DNA for the reverse transcriptase-catalyzed extension of total in vivo viral mRNA. The results indicate that in vivo and in vitro viral RNA transcription are similar in two important respects: (i) transcription initiates not with an A residue directed by the 3' terminal U of the vRNA, but with a G residue directed by the 3' penultimate C of the vRNA; and (ii) capped RNA fragments containing a 3' terminal A residue are preferentially used as primers, therapy generating an AG sequence in the viral mRNA complementary to the 3' terminal UC of the vRNA. Actually, for in vivo transcription, a subset of A-terminated capped fragments, namely those containing a 3' penultimate C residue, are the preferred primers. The latter specificity had not been observed in previous in vitro studies.
PMCID: PMC327445  PMID: 7301581
22.  Recognition of Cap Structure by Influenza B Virus RNA Polymerase Is Less Dependent on the Methyl Residue than Recognition by Influenza A Virus Polymerase ▿† 
Journal of Virology  2011;85(15):7504-7512.
The cap-dependent endonuclease activity of the influenza virus RNA-dependent RNA polymerase cleaves host mRNAs to produce capped RNA fragments for primers to initiate viral mRNA synthesis. The influenza A virus (FluA) cap-dependent endonuclease preferentially recognizes the cap1 structure (m7GpppNm). However, little is known about the substrate specificity of the influenza B virus (FluB) endonuclease. Here, we determined the substrate specificity of the FluB polymerase using purified viral RNPs and 32P-labeled polyribonucleotides containing a variety of cap structures (m7GpppGm, m7GpppG, and GpppG). We found that the FluA polymerase cleaves m7G-capped RNAs preferentially. In contrast, the FluB polymerase could efficiently cleave not only m7G-capped RNAs but also unmethylated GpppG-RNAs. To identify a key amino acid(s) related to the cap recognition specificity of the PB2 subunit, the transcription activity of FluB polymerases containing mutated cap-binding domains was examined by use of a minireplicon assay system. In the case of FluA PB2, Phe323, His357, and Phe404, which stack the m7GTP, and Glu361 and Lys376, which make hydrogen bonds with a guanine base, were essential for the transcription activity. In contrast, in the case of FluB PB2, the stacking interaction of Trp359 with a guanine base and putative hydrogen bonds using Gln325 and Glu363 were enough for the transcription activity. Taking these results together with the result for the cap-binding activity, we propose that the cap recognition pocket of FluB PB2 does not have the specificity for m7G-cap structures and thus is more flexible to accept various cap structures than FluA PB2.
PMCID: PMC3147943  PMID: 21593178
23.  Mutations in the N-Terminal Region of Influenza Virus PB2 Protein Affect Virus RNA Replication but Not Transcription 
Journal of Virology  2003;77(9):5098-5108.
PB2 mutants of influenza virus were prepared by altering conserved positions in the N-terminal region of the protein that aligned with the amino acids of the eIF4E protein, involved in cap recognition. These mutant genes were used to reconstitute in vivo viral ribonucleoproteins (RNPs) whose biological activity was determined by (i) assay of viral RNA, cRNA, and mRNA accumulation in vivo, (ii) cap-dependent transcription in vitro, and (iii) cap snatching with purified recombinant RNPs. The results indicated that the W49A, F130A, and R142A mutations of PB2 reduced or abolished the capacity of mutant RNPs to synthesize RNA in vivo but did not substantially alter their ability to transcribe or carry out cap snatching in vitro. Some of the mutations (F130Y, R142A, and R142K) were rescued into infectious virus. While the F130Y mutant virus replicated faster than the wild type, mutant viruses R142A and R142K showed a delayed accumulation of cRNA and viral RNA during the infection cycle but normal kinetics of primary transcription, as determined by the accumulation of viral mRNA in cells infected in the presence of cycloheximide. These results indicate that the N-terminal region of PB2 plays a role in viral RNA replication.
PMCID: PMC153989  PMID: 12692212
24.  Differential activation of the influenza virus polymerase via template RNA binding. 
Journal of Virology  1995;69(7):3995-3999.
Primary transcripts synthesized by the influenza virus polymerase contain the capped 5' ends of eukaryotic mRNAs. These sequences are derived from host mRNA and scavenged by the viral polymerase as a prerequisite to transcription. The first step in this reaction is the specific binding of the viral polymerase to the cap structure of the host RNA. The role that template RNA plays in this RNA binding reaction was examined in quantitative capped mRNA binding and endonuclease assays. Capped RNA binding was shown to be a template-dependent property of the influenza virus polymerase. Addition of only the 5' end of viral RNA stimulates capped mRNA binding by the viral polymerase, but endonuclease activity requires the addition of the 3' end. The addition of template RNA corresponding to the positive-sense complementary RNA replicative intermediate was also able to stimulate capped mRNA binding but was not able to efficiently activate the viral endonuclease. Thus, regulation of endonuclease activity by the influenza virus polymerase can be dependent on template RNA binding.
PMCID: PMC189131  PMID: 7769657
25.  Hairpin Loop Structure in the 3′ Arm of the Influenza A Virus Virion RNA Promoter Is Required for Endonuclease Activity 
Journal of Virology  2001;75(15):7042-7049.
Previous studies have shown that the 5′ arm of the influenza A virus virion RNA promoter requires a hairpin loop structure for efficient endonuclease activity of influenza virus RNA polymerase, an activity that is required for the cap-snatching activity of primers from host pre-mRNA. Here we examine whether a hairpin loop is also required in the 3′ arm of the viral RNA promoter. We study point mutations at each nucleotide position (1 to 12) within the 3′ arm of the promoter as well as complementary “rescue” mutations which restored base pairing in the stem of a potential hairpin loop. Our results suggest that endonuclease activity is absolutely dependent on the presence of a 3′ hairpin loop structure. This is the first direct evidence for RNA secondary structure within the 3′ arm being required for a specific stage, i.e., endonuclease cleavage, in the influenza virus replicative cycle.
PMCID: PMC114432  PMID: 11435584

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