The 5'-poly(A) leader of poxvirus mRNA confers a translational advantage that can be achieved in cells with impaired cap-dependent translation. Academic Article uri icon


  • The poly(A) leader at the 5'-untranslated region (5'-UTR) is an unusually striking feature of all poxvirus mRNAs transcribed after viral DNA replication (post-replicative mRNAs). These poly(A) leaders are non-templated and of heterogeneous lengths; and their function during poxvirus infection remains a long-standing question. Here, we discovered that a 5'-poly(A) leader conferred a selective translational advantage to mRNA in poxvirus-infected cells. A constitutive and uninterrupted 5'-poly(A) leader with 12 residues was optimal. Because the most frequent lengths of the 5'-poly(A) leaders are 8-12 residues, the result suggests that the poly(A) leader has been evolutionarily optimized to boost poxvirus protein production. A 5'-poly(A) leader also could increase protein production in the bacteriophage T7 promoter-based expression system of vaccinia virus, the prototypic member of poxviruses. Interestingly, although vaccinia virus post-replicative mRNAs do have 5'- methylated guanosine caps and can use cap-dependent translation, in vaccinia virus-infected cells, mRNA with a 5'-poly(A) leader could also be efficiently translated in cells with impaired cap-dependent translation. However, the translation was not mediated through an internal ribosome entry site (IRES). These results point to a fundamental mechanism poxvirus uses to efficiently translate its post-replicative mRNAs.

published proceedings

  • PLoS Pathog

author list (cited authors)

  • Dhungel, P., Cao, S., & Yang, Z.

complete list of authors

  • Dhungel, Pragyesh||Cao, Shuai||Yang, Zhilong

editor list (cited editors)

  • Evans, D. H.

publication date

  • August 2017