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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Analyses of the complete sequence of the 1.1 X 10(6)-dalton, small (S) RNA of the arenavirus Pichinde and virus-induced cellular RNA species have revealed that the viral nucleoprotein, N, is coded in a subgenomic, non-polyadenylated, virus-complementary mRNA corresponding to the 3' half of the viral RNA (Auperin et al., Virology 134:208-219, 1984). By contrast, a second S-coded product, presumably the viral glycoprotein precursor (GPC), is coded in a subgenomic, virus-sense mRNA corresponding to the 5' half of the RNA. Between the two genes is a unique RNA sequence that can be arranged in a hairpin configuration and may function as a transcription terminator for both genes. The term ambisense RNA is coined to describe this novel coding strategy of a viral RNA. The unique feature of the strategy is that the presumptive GPC mRNA and its translation product cannot be made until viral RNA replication has commenced. In addition, it allows the two subgenomic mRNA species to be regulated independently from each other or from other viral mRNA species. The implications of this strategy on possible mechanisms for the induction and maintenance of viral persistence, an important attribute of arenavirus infections, are discussed.
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.
Influenza virus mRNAs bear a short capped oligonucleotide sequence at their 5′ ends derived from the host cell pre-mRNAs by a “cap-snatching” mechanism, followed immediately by a common viral sequence. At their 3′ ends, they contain a poly(A) tail. Although cellular and viral mRNAs are structurally similar, influenza virus promotes the selective translation of its mRNAs despite the inhibition of host cell protein synthesis. The viral polymerase performs the cap snatching and binds selectively to the 5′ common viral sequence. As viral mRNAs are recognized by their own cap-binding complex, we tested whether viral mRNA translation occurs without the contribution of the eIF4E protein, the cellular factor required for cap-dependent translation. Here, we show that influenza virus infection proceeds normally in different situations of functional impairment of the eIF4E factor. In addition, influenza virus polymerase binds to translation preinitiation complexes, and furthermore, under conditions of decreased eIF4GI association to cap structures, an increase in eIF4GI binding to these structures was found upon influenza virus infection. This is the first report providing evidence that influenza virus mRNA translation proceeds independently of a fully active translation initiation factor (eIF4E). The data reported are in agreement with a role of viral polymerase as a substitute for the eIF4E factor for viral mRNA translation.
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.
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.
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.
Two mRNAs, coding for the N and NSS proteins, are transcribed from the small (S) Uukuniemi virus RNA segment by an ambisense strategy (J. F. Simons, U. Hellman, and R. F. Pettersson, J. Virol. 64:247-255, 1990). In this report, we describe the analysis of the 5' and 3' ends of the two mRNAs. Primer extension as well as cloning and sequencing of individual mRNAs showed that the 5' ends of both mRNAs contained nonviral sequences ranging from 7 to 25 residues in length (mean, 12 residues), indicating a cap-snatching mechanism similar to the one originally described for priming of influenza virus mRNA synthesis. In 35% of the cases, the first virion-specified nucleotide (an A residue) was substituted with a G residue. Between the translation termination codons of N and NSS, there is a 74-residue-long noncoding intergenic region (Simons et al., J. Virol. 64:247-255, 1990). Nuclease protection assays using both RNA and DNA hybridization probes showed that the 3' ends of the N and NSS mRNAs overlap each other by about 100 nucleotides. The 3' end of the NSS mRNA extends into the coding sequence of the N mRNA, whereas the N mRNA is terminated just prior to the stop codon of NSS. To our knowledge, this is the first example of overlapping complementary mRNAs in viruses with an ambisense coding strategy. No obvious transcription termination sequence was identified. However, because of a short palindromic sequence in the intergenic region, the 3' ends of both mRNAs (and consequently also the template RNAs) can be folded into an A/U-rich hairpin structure. It remains to be determined whether this structure plays any role in transcription termination.
Arenaviruses are negative-strand RNA viruses that cause human diseases such as lymphocytic choriomeningitis, Bolivian hemorrhagic fever, and Lassa hemorrhagic fever. No licensed vaccines exist, and current treatment is limited to ribavirin. The prototypic arenavirus, lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV), is a model for dissecting virus-host interactions in persistent and acute disease. The RING finger protein Z has been identified as the driving force of arenaviral budding and acts as the viral matrix protein. While residues in Z required for viral budding have been described, residues that govern the Z matrix function(s) have yet to be fully elucidated. Because this matrix function is integral to viral assembly, we reasoned that this would be reflected in sequence conservation. Using sequence alignment, we identified several conserved residues in Z outside the RING and late domains. Nine residues were each mutated to alanine in Lassa fever virus Z. All of the mutations affected the expression of an LCMV minigenome and the infectivity of virus-like particles, but to greatly varying degrees. Interestingly, no mutations appeared to affect Z-mediated budding or association with viral GP. Our findings provide direct experimental evidence supporting a role for Z in the modulation of the activity of the viral ribonucleoprotein (RNP) complex and its packaging into mature infectious viral particles.