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1.  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
2.  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
3.  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
4.  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
5.  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
6.  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
7.  Signatures of Host mRNA 5′ Terminus for Efficient Hantavirus Cap Snatching 
Journal of Virology  2012;86(18):10173-10185.
Hantaviruses, similarly to other negative-strand segmented RNA viruses, initiate the synthesis of translation-competent capped mRNAs by a unique cap-snatching mechanism. Hantavirus nucleocapsid protein (N) binds to host mRNA caps and requires four nucleotides adjacent to the 5′ cap for high-affinity binding. N protects the 5′ caps of cellular transcripts from degradation by the cellular decapping machinery. The rescued 5′ capped mRNA fragments are stored in cellular P bodies by N, which are later efficiently used as primers by the hantaviral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) for transcription initiation. We showed that N also protects the host mRNA caps in P-body-deficient cells. However, the rescued caps were not effectively used by the hantavirus RdRp during transcription initiation, suggesting that caps stored in cellular P bodies by N are preferred for cap snatching. We examined the characteristics of the 5′ terminus of a capped test mRNA to delineate the minimum requirements for a capped transcript to serve as an efficient cap donor during hantavirus cap snatching. We showed that hantavirus RdRp preferentially snatches caps from the nonsense mRNAs compared to mRNAs engaged in translation. Hantavirus RdRp preferentially cleaves the cap donor mRNA at a G residue located 14 nucleotides downstream of the 5′ cap. The sequence complementarity between the 3′ terminus of viral genomic RNA and the nucleotides located in the vicinity of the cleavage site of the cap donor mRNA favors cap snatching. Our results show that hantavirus RdRp snatches caps from viral mRNAs. However, the negligible cap-donating efficiency of wild-type mRNAs in comparison to nonsense mRNAs suggests that viral mRNAs will not be efficiently used for cap snatching during viral infection due to their continuous engagement in protein synthesis. Our results suggest that efficiency of an mRNA to donate caps for viral mRNA synthesis is primarily regulated at the translational level.
PMCID: PMC3446632  PMID: 22787213
8.  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
9.  A Novel Functional Site in the PB2 Subunit of Influenza A Virus Essential for Acetyl-CoA Interaction, RNA Polymerase Activity, and Viral Replication* 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2014;289(36):24980-24994.
Background: The PB2 subunit of RNA polymerase of influenza virus has a novel site for acetyl-CoA interaction, which contains a valine/arginine/glycine (VRG) motif.
Results: A mutation in the VRG site inhibited acetyl-CoA interaction, RNA polymerase activity, and viral replication.
Conclusion: Acetyl-CoA interaction at the VRG site is potentially essential for viral replication.
Significance: The VRG site might be a novel target for drugs and vaccines.
The PA, PB1, and PB2 subunits, components of the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase of influenza A virus, are essential for viral transcription and replication. The PB2 subunit binds to the host RNA cap (7-methylguanosine triphosphate (m7GTP)) and supports the endonuclease activity of PA to “snatch” the cap from host pre-mRNAs. However, the structure of PB2 is not fully understood, and the functional sites remain unknown. In this study, we describe a novel Val/Arg/Gly (VRG) site in the PB2 cap-binding domain, which is involved in interaction with acetyl-CoA found in eukaryotic histone acetyltransferases (HATs). In vitro experiments revealed that the recombinant PB2 cap-binding domain that includes the VRG site interacts with acetyl-CoA; moreover, it was found that this interaction could be blocked by CoA and various HAT inhibitors. Interestingly, m7GTP also inhibited this interaction, suggesting that the same active pocket is capable of interacting with acetyl-CoA and m7GTP. To elucidate the importance of the VRG site on PB2 function and viral replication, we constructed a PB2 recombinant protein and recombinant viruses including several patterns of amino acid mutations in the VRG site. Substitutions of the valine and arginine residues or of all 3 residues of the VRG site to alanine significantly reduced the binding ability of PB2 to acetyl-CoA and its RNA polymerase activity. Recombinant viruses containing the same mutations could not be replicated in cultured cells. These results indicate that the PB2 VRG sequence is a functional site that is essential for acetyl-CoA interaction, RNA polymerase activity, and viral replication.
PMCID: PMC4155666  PMID: 25063805
Acetyl-coenzyme A (Acetyl-CoA); Influenza Virus; Negative-strand RNA Virus; Recombinant Protein Expression; RNA Polymerase
10.  Characterization of Bunyamwera virus S RNA that is transcribed and replicated by the L protein expressed from recombinant vaccinia virus. 
Journal of Virology  1993;67(3):1396-1404.
Analysis of the 5' termini of Bunyamwera virus S segment mRNAs by cloning and sequence analysis revealed the presence of nonviral, heterogeneous sequences 12 to 17 bases long. This is similar to reports for other members of the family Bunyaviridae and is taken to indicate that mRNA transcription is primed by a "cap-snatching" mechanism. The 3' end of the Bunyamwera virus S mRNA was mapped, by using an RNase protection assay, to 100 to 110 nucleotides upstream of the 3' end of the template. Previously we reported expression of the Bunyamwera virus L (polymerase) protein by recombinant vaccinia virus and demonstrated that the recombinant L protein was functional in terms of RNA synthesis activity in a nucleocapsid transfection assay (H. Jin and R. M. Elliott, J. Virol. 65: 4182-4189, 1991). In the present study we further analyze the RNAs made by using this system and show that positive-sense RNAs contain 5' nonviral sequences. Hence the initiation of mRNA transcription by the recombinant L protein resembles that seen during authentic bunyavirus infection and suggests that the L protein has the endonuclease activity which generates the primers. Some of these positive-sense transcripts terminated at the mRNA termination site, but the majority read through to the end of the template. No primer sequences were found at the 5' terminal of negative-sense RNAs. The recombinant L protein was able to replicate negative-sense RNA supplied by transfected virion-derived nucleocapsids, and both positive- and negative-sense RNAs were synthesized. These results indicate that the recombinant L protein has both transcriptase and replicase activities.
PMCID: PMC237509  PMID: 8437222
11.  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
12.  In vitro polymerase activity of Thogoto virus: evidence for a unique cap-snatching mechanism in a tick-borne orthomyxovirus. 
Journal of Virology  1997;71(11):8347-8351.
The tick-borne Thogoto virus (THOV) is the type species of a new genus in the family Orthomyxoviridae. Its genome comprises six segments of single-stranded, negative-sense RNA. Each segment possesses conserved regions of semicomplementary nucleotides at the 3' and 5' termini which strongly resemble those of influenza virus. An in vitro polymerase assay based on reconstituted THOV viral cores was developed, and activity was shown to rely on an interaction between the conserved 3'- and 5'-terminal sequences and to be primer dependent. Addition of globin mRNA primed transcription, catalyzing the addition of an extra nucleotide to the transcripts, corresponding to the 5'-terminal m7G cap residue. Priming with various cap analogs suggested that THOV transcription is initiated preferentially with m7GpppAm and involves base pairing. This is the first experimental evidence of endonuclease activity in THOV as part of a unique cap-snatching mechanism.
PMCID: PMC192294  PMID: 9343188
13.  The 5' ends of Hantaan virus (Bunyaviridae) RNAs suggest a prime-and-realign mechanism for the initiation of RNA synthesis. 
Journal of Virology  1995;69(9):5754-5762.
We examined the 5' ends of Hantaan virus (HTN) genomes and mRNAs to gain insight into the manner in which these chains were initiated. Like those of all members of the family Bunyaviridae described so far, the HTN mRNAs contained 5' terminal extensions that were heterogeneous in both length and sequence, presumably because HTN also "cap snatches" host mRNAs to initiate the viral mRNAs. Unexpectedly, however, almost all of the mRNAs contained a G residue at position -1, and a large fraction also lacked precisely one of the three UAG repeats at the termini. The genomes, on the other hand, commenced with a U residue at position +1, but only 5' monophosphates were found here, indicating that these chains may not have initiated with UTP at this position. Taken together, these unusual findings suggest a prime-and-realign mechanism of chain initiation in which mRNAs are initiated with a G-terminated host cell primer and genomes with GTP, not at the 3' end of the genome template but internally (opposite the template C at position +3), and after extension by one or a few nucleotides, the nascent chain realigns backwards by virtue of the terminal sequence repeats, before processive elongation takes place. For genome initiation, an endonuclease, perhaps that involved in cap snatching, is postulated to remove the 5' terminal extension of the genome, leaving the 5' pU at position +1.
PMCID: PMC189436  PMID: 7637020
14.  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
15.  In Vitro Reconstitution of SARS-Coronavirus mRNA Cap Methylation 
PLoS Pathogens  2010;6(4):e1000863.
SARS-coronavirus (SARS-CoV) genome expression depends on the synthesis of a set of mRNAs, which presumably are capped at their 5′ end and direct the synthesis of all viral proteins in the infected cell. Sixteen viral non-structural proteins (nsp1 to nsp16) constitute an unusually large replicase complex, which includes two methyltransferases putatively involved in viral mRNA cap formation. The S-adenosyl-L-methionine (AdoMet)-dependent (guanine-N7)-methyltransferase (N7-MTase) activity was recently attributed to nsp14, whereas nsp16 has been predicted to be the AdoMet-dependent (nucleoside-2′O)-methyltransferase. Here, we have reconstituted complete SARS-CoV mRNA cap methylation in vitro. We show that mRNA cap methylation requires a third viral protein, nsp10, which acts as an essential trigger to complete RNA cap-1 formation. The obligate sequence of methylation events is initiated by nsp14, which first methylates capped RNA transcripts to generate cap-0 7MeGpppA-RNAs. The latter are then selectively 2′O-methylated by the 2′O-MTase nsp16 in complex with its activator nsp10 to give rise to cap-1 7MeGpppA2′OMe-RNAs. Furthermore, sensitive in vitro inhibition assays of both activities show that aurintricarboxylic acid, active in SARS-CoV infected cells, targets both MTases with IC50 values in the micromolar range, providing a validated basis for anti-coronavirus drug design.
Author Summary
In 2003, an emerging coronavirus (CoV) was identified as the etiological agent of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). SARS-CoV replicates and transcribes its large RNA genome using a membrane-bound enzyme complex containing a variety of viral nonstructural proteins. A critical step during RNA synthesis is the addition of a cap structure to the newly produced viral mRNAs, ensuring their efficient translation by host cell ribosomes. Viruses generally acquire their cap structure either from cellular mRNAs (e.g., “cap snatching” of influenza virus) or employ their own capping machinery, as is supposed to be the case for coronaviruses. mRNA caps synthesized by viruses are structurally and functionally undistinguishable from cellular mRNAs caps. In coronaviruses, methylation of mRNA caps seems to be essential, since mutations in viral methyltransferases nsp14 or nsp16 render non-viable virus. We have discovered an unexpected key role for SARS-CoV nsp10, a protein of previously unknown function, within mRNA cap methylation. Nsp10 induces selective 2′O-methylation of guanine-N7 methylated capped RNAs through direct activation of the otherwise inactive nsp16. This finding allows the full reconstitution of the SARS-CoV mRNA cap methylation sequence in vitro and opens the way to exploit the mRNA cap methyltransferases as targets for anti-coronavirus drug design.
PMCID: PMC2858705  PMID: 20421945
16.  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
17.  Role of the C Terminus of Lassa Virus L Protein in Viral mRNA Synthesis 
Journal of Virology  2014;88(15):8713-8717.
The N terminus of arenavirus L protein contains an endonuclease presumably involved in “cap snatching.” Here, we employed the Lassa virus replicon system to map other L protein sites that might be involved in this mechanism. Residues Phe-1979, Arg-2018, Phe-2071, Asp-2106, Trp-2173, Tyr-2179, Arg-2200, and Arg-2204 were important for viral mRNA synthesis but dispensable for genome replication. Thus, the C terminus of L protein is involved in the mRNA synthesis process, potentially by mediating cap binding.
PMCID: PMC4135956  PMID: 24829349
18.  Structure, Function, and Evolution of the Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever Virus Nucleocapsid Protein 
Journal of Virology  2012;86(20):10914-10923.
Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus (CCHFV) is an emerging tick-borne virus of the Bunyaviridae family that is responsible for a fatal human disease for which preventative or therapeutic measures do not exist. We solved the crystal structure of the CCHFV strain Baghdad-12 nucleocapsid protein (N), a potential therapeutic target, at a resolution of 2.1 Å. N comprises a large globular domain composed of both N- and C-terminal sequences, likely involved in RNA binding, and a protruding arm domain with a conserved DEVD caspase-3 cleavage site at its apex. Alignment of our structure with that of the recently reported N protein from strain YL04057 shows a close correspondence of all folds but significant transposition of the arm through a rotation of 180 degrees and a translation of 40 Å. These observations suggest a structural flexibility that may provide the basis for switching between alternative N protein conformations during important functions such as RNA binding and oligomerization. Our structure reveals surfaces likely involved in RNA binding and oligomerization, and functionally critical residues within these domains were identified using a minigenome system able to recapitulate CCHFV-specific RNA synthesis in cells. Caspase-3 cleaves the polypeptide chain at the exposed DEVD motif; however, the cleaved N protein remains an intact unit, likely due to the intimate association of N- and C-terminal fragments in the globular domain. Structural alignment with existing N proteins reveals that the closest CCHFV relative is not another bunyavirus but the arenavirus Lassa virus instead, suggesting that current segmented negative-strand RNA virus taxonomy may need revision.
PMCID: PMC3457148  PMID: 22875964
19.  A Freeze Frame View of Vesicular Stomatitis Virus Transcription Defines a Minimal Length of RNA for 5′ Processing 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(6):e1002073.
The RNA synthesis machinery of vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) comprises the genomic RNA encapsidated by the viral nucleocapsid protein (N) and associated with the RNA dependent RNA polymerase, the viral components of which are a large protein (L) and an accessory phosphoprotein (P). The 241 kDa L protein contains all the enzymatic activities necessary for synthesis of the viral mRNAs, including capping, cap methylation and polyadenylation. Those RNA processing reactions are intimately coordinated with nucleotide polymerization such that failure to cap results in termination of transcription and failure to methylate can result in hyper polyadenylation. The mRNA processing reactions thus serve as a critical check point in viral RNA synthesis which may control the synthesis of incorrectly modified RNAs. Here, we report the length at which viral transcripts first gain access to the capping machinery during synthesis. By reconstitution of transcription in vitro with highly purified recombinant polymerase and engineered templates in which we omitted sites for incorporation of UTP, we found that transcripts that were 30-nucleotides in length were uncapped, whereas those that were 31-nucleotides in length contained a cap structure. The minimal RNA length required for mRNA cap addition was also sufficient for methylation since the 31-nucleotide long transcripts were methylated at both ribose-2′-O and guanine-N-7 positions. This work provides insights into the spatial relationship between the active sites for the RNA dependent RNA polymerase and polyribonucleotidyltransferase responsible for capping of the viral RNA. We combine the present findings with our recently described electron microscopic structure of the VSV polymerase and propose a model of how the spatial arrangement of the capping activities of L may influence nucleotide polymerization.
Author Summary
Using a prototype of the nonsegmented negative strand RNA viruses, vesicular stomatitis virus, we probed the spatial relationship between the RNA dependent RNA polymerase and 5′ mRNA capping and methylation activities of the large polymerase protein. Because the 5′ mRNA processing reactions dramatically impact the nucleotide polymerization activity of the protein, they may function as a quality control step in viral transcription. We developed a means to stall transcription at precisely defined locations following initiation and analyzed the cap status of the stalled transcripts. We show that 30-nt transcripts are uncapped whereas those that are 31-nt long gain are capped and methylated at both guanine-N-7 and ribose-2′-O positions. Combined with our recent work that determined the molecular architecture of the VSV polymerase, this work reveals the spatial relationship within a functional polymerase complex of the polymerase domain and the 5′ mRNA processing domains of the L protein.
PMCID: PMC3107219  PMID: 21655110
20.  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
21.  Predicted Structure and Domain Organization of Rotavirus Capping Enzyme and Innate Immune Antagonist VP3 
Journal of Virology  2014;88(16):9072-9085.
Rotaviruses and orbiviruses are nonturreted Reoviridae members. The rotavirus VP3 protein is a multifunctional capping enzyme and antagonist of the interferon-induced cellular oligoadenylate synthetase-RNase L pathway. Despite mediating important processes, VP3 is the sole protein component of the rotavirus virion whose structure remains unknown. In the current study, we used sequence alignment and homology modeling to identify features common to nonturreted Reoviridae capping enzymes and to predict the domain organization, structure, and active sites of rotavirus VP3. Our results suggest that orbivirus and rotavirus capping enzymes share a domain arrangement similar to that of the bluetongue virus capping enzyme. Sequence alignments revealed conserved motifs and suggested that rotavirus and orbivirus capping enzymes contain a variable N-terminal domain, a central guanine-N7-methyltransferase domain that contains an additional inserted domain, and a C-terminal guanylyltransferase and RNA 5′-triphosphatase domain. Sequence conservation and homology modeling suggested that the insertion in the guanine-N7-methyltransferase domain is a ribose-2′-O-methyltransferase domain for most rotavirus species. Our analyses permitted putative identification of rotavirus VP3 active-site residues, including those that form the ribose-2′-O-methyltransferase catalytic tetrad, interact with S-adenosyl-l-methionine, and contribute to autoguanylation. Previous reports have indicated that group A rotavirus VP3 contains a C-terminal 2H-phosphodiesterase domain that can cleave 2′-5′ oligoadenylates, thereby preventing RNase L activation. Our results suggest that a C-terminal phosphodiesterase domain is present in the capping enzymes from two additional rotavirus species. Together, these findings provide insight into a poorly understood area of rotavirus biology and are a springboard for future biochemical and structural studies of VP3.
IMPORTANCE Rotaviruses are an important cause of severe diarrheal disease. The rotavirus VP3 protein caps viral mRNAs and helps combat cellular innate antiviral defenses, but little is known about its structure or enzymatic mechanisms. In this study, we used sequence- and structure-based alignments with related proteins to predict the structure of VP3 and identify enzymatic domains and active sites therein. This work provides insight into the mechanisms of rotavirus transcription and evasion of host innate immune defenses. An improved understanding of these processes may aid our ability to develop rotavirus vaccines and therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC4136241  PMID: 24899176
22.  Influenza Virus Temperature-Sensitive Cap (m7GpppNm)-Dependent Endonuclease 
Journal of Virology  1983;45(1):27-35.
The first step in influenza viral mRNA synthesis is the endonucleolytic cleavage of heterologous RNAs containing cap 1 (m7GpppNm) structures to generate capped primers that are 10 to 13 nucleotides long, which are then elongated to form the viral mRNA chains. We examined the temperature sensitivity of these steps in vitro by using two WSN virus temperature-sensitive mutants, ts1 and ts6, which have a defect in the genome RNA segment coding for the viral PB2 protein. For these experiments, it was necessary to employ purified viral cores rather than detergent-treated virions to catalyze transcription, as preparations of detergent-treated virions contain destabilizing or inhibitory activities which render even the transcription catalyzed by wild-type virus temperature sensitive. Using purified wild-type viral cores, we found that the rates of endonucleolytic cleavage of capped primers and of overall transcription were similar at 39.5 and 33°C, the in vivo nonpermissive and permissive temperatures, respectively. In contrast, the activities of the cap-dependent endonucleases of ts1 and ts6 viral cores at 39.5°C were only about 15% of those at 33°C. The steps in transcription after endonucleolytic cleavage of the capped RNA primer were largely, if not totally, temperature insensitive, indicating that the mutations in the PB2 protein found in ts1 and ts6 virions affect only the endonuclease step. The temperature-sensitive defect is most likely in the recognition of the 5′-terminal cap 1 structure that occurs as a required first step in the endonuclease reaction: the cap-dependent binding of a specific capped primer fragment to ts1 viral cores was temperature sensitive under conditions in which binding to wild-type viral cores was not affected by increasing the temperature from 33 to 39.5°C. Thus, our results establish that the viral PB2 protein functions in cap recognition during the endonuclease reaction.
PMCID: PMC256383  PMID: 6823015
23.  Differential Contributions of Tacaribe Arenavirus Nucleoprotein N-Terminal and C-Terminal Residues to Nucleocapsid Functional Activity 
Journal of Virology  2014;88(11):6492-6505.
The arenavirus nucleoprotein (NP) is the main protein component of viral nucleocapsids and is strictly required for viral genome replication mediated by the L polymerase. Homo-oligomerization of NP is presumed to play an important role in nucleocapsid assembly, albeit the underlying mechanism and the relevance of NP-NP interaction in nucleocapsid activity are still poorly understood. Here, we evaluate the contribution of the New World Tacaribe virus (TCRV) NP self-interaction to nucleocapsid functional activity. We show that alanine substitution of N-terminal residues predicted to be available for NP-NP interaction strongly affected NP self-association, as determined by coimmunoprecipitation assays, produced a drastic inhibition of transcription and replication of a TCRV minigenome RNA, and impaired NP binding to RNA. Mutagenesis and functional analysis also revealed that, while dispensable for NP self-interaction, key amino acids at the C-terminal domain were essential for RNA synthesis. Furthermore, mutations at these C-terminal residues rendered NP unable to bind RNA both in vivo and in vitro but had no effect on the interaction with the L polymerase. In addition, while all oligomerization-defective variants tested exhibited unaltered capacities to sustain NP-L interaction, NP deletion mutants were fully incompetent to bind L, suggesting that, whereas NP self-association is dispensable, the integrity of both the N-terminal and C-terminal domains is required for binding the L polymerase. Overall, our results suggest that NP self-interaction mediated by the N-terminal domain may play a critical role in TCRV nucleocapsid assembly and activity and that the C-terminal domain of NP is implicated in RNA binding.
IMPORTANCE The mechanism of arenavirus functional nucleocapsid assembly is still poorly understood. No detailed information is available on the nucleocapsid structure, and the regions of full-length NP involved in binding to viral RNA remain to be determined. In this report, novel findings are provided on critical interactions between the viral ribonucleoprotein components. We identify several amino acid residues in both the N-terminal and C-terminal domains of TCRV NP that differentially contribute to NP-NP and NP-RNA interactions and analyze their relevance for binding of NP to the L polymerase and for nucleocapsid activity. Our results provide insight into the contribution of NP self-interaction to RNP assembly and activity and reveal the involvement of the NP C-terminal domain in RNA binding.
PMCID: PMC4093893  PMID: 24696466
24.  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
25.  Inhibition of Arenavirus Infection by a Glycoprotein-Derived Peptide with a Novel Mechanism 
Journal of Virology  2014;88(15):8556-8564.
The family Arenaviridae includes a number of viruses of public health importance, such as the category A hemorrhagic fever viruses Lassa virus, Junin virus, Machupo virus, Guanarito virus, and Sabia virus. Current chemotherapy for arenavirus infection is limited to the nucleoside analogue ribavirin, which is characterized by considerable toxicity and treatment failure. Using Pichinde virus as a model arenavirus, we attempted to design glycoprotein-derived fusion inhibitors similar to the FDA-approved anti-HIV peptide enfuvirtide. We have identified a GP2-derived peptide, AVP-p, with antiviral activity and no acute cytotoxicity. The 50% inhibitory dose (IC50) for the peptide is 7 μM, with complete inhibition of viral plaque formation at approximately 20 μM, and its antiviral activity is largely sequence dependent. AVP-p demonstrates activity against viruses with the Old and New World arenavirus viral glycoprotein complex but not against enveloped viruses of other families. Unexpectedly, fusion assays reveal that the peptide induces virus-liposome fusion at neutral pH and that the process is strictly glycoprotein mediated. As observed in cryo-electron micrographs, AVP-p treatment causes morphological changes consistent with fusion protein activation in virions, including the disappearance of prefusion glycoprotein spikes and increased particle diameters, and fluorescence microscopy shows reduced binding by peptide-treated virus. Steady-state fluorescence anisotropy measurements suggest that glycoproteins are destabilized by peptide-induced alterations in viral membrane order. We conclude that untimely deployment of fusion machinery by the peptide could render virions less able to engage in on-pathway receptor binding or endosomal fusion. AVP-p may represent a potent, highly specific, novel therapeutic strategy for arenavirus infection.
IMPORTANCE Because the only drug available to combat infection by Lassa virus, a highly pathogenic arenavirus, is toxic and prone to treatment failure, we identified a peptide, AVP-p, derived from the fusion glycoprotein of a nonpathogenic model arenavirus, which demonstrates antiviral activity and no acute cytotoxicity. AVP-p is unique among self-derived inhibitory peptides in that it shows broad, specific activity against pseudoviruses bearing Old and New World arenavirus glycoproteins but not against viruses from other families. Further, the peptide's mechanism of action is highly novel. Biochemical assays and cryo-electron microscopy indicate that AVP-p induces premature activation of viral fusion proteins through membrane perturbance. Peptide treatment, however, does not increase the infectivity of cell-bound virus. We hypothesize that prematurely activated virions are less fit for receptor binding and membrane fusion and that AVP-p may represent a viable therapeutic strategy for arenavirus infection.
PMCID: PMC4135937  PMID: 24850726

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