Effects of an Opal Termination Codon Preceding the nsP4 Gene Sequence in the O'Nyong-Nyong Virus Genome on Anopheles gambiae Infectivity
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The genomic RNA of an alphavirus encodes four different nonstructural proteins, nsP1, nsP2, nsP3, and nsP4. The polyprotein P123 is produced when translation terminates at an opal termination codon between nsP3 and nsP4. The polyprotein P1234 is produced when translational readthrough occurs or when the opal termination codon has been replaced by a sense codon in the alphavirus genome. Evolutionary pressures appear to have maintained genomic sequences encoding both a stop codon (opal) and an open reading frame (arginine) as a general feature of the O'nyong-nyong virus (ONNV) genome, indicating that both are required at some point. Alternate replication of ONNVs in both vertebrate and invertebrate hosts may determine predominance of a particular codon at this locus in the viral quasispecies. However, no systematic study has previously tested this hypothesis in whole animals. We report here the results of the first study to investigate in a natural mosquito host the functional significance of the opal stop codon in an alphavirus genome. We used a full-length cDNA clone of ONNV to construct a series of mutants in which the arginine between nsP3 and nsP4 was replaced with an opal, ochre, or amber stop codon. The presence of an opal stop codon upstream of nsP4 nearly doubled (75.5%) the infectivity of ONNV over that of virus possessing a codon for the amino acid arginine at the corresponding position (39.8%). Although the frequency with which the opal virus disseminated from the mosquito midgut did not differ significantly from that of the arginine virus on days 8 and 10, dissemination did began earlier in mosquitoes infected with the opal virus. Although a clear fitness advantage is provided to ONNV by the presence of an opal codon between nsP3 and nsP4 in Anopheles gambiae, sequence analysis of ONNV RNA extracted from mosquito bodies and heads indicated codon usage at this position corresponded with that of the virus administered in the blood meal. These results suggest that while selection of ONNV variants is occurring, de novo mutation at the position between nsP3 and nsP4 does not readily occur in the mosquito. Taken together, these results suggest that the primary fitness advantage provided to ONNV by the presence of an opal codon between nsP3 and nsP4 is related to mosquito infectivity.
author list (cited authors)
Myles, K. M., Kelly, C., Ledermann, J. P., & Powers, A. M.