Mouse Hepatitis Virus Stem-Loop 4 Functions as a Spacer Element Required To Drive Subgenomic RNA Synthesis
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The 5' 140 nucleotides of the mouse hepatitis virus (MHV) 5' untranslated region (5'UTR) are predicted to contain three secondary structures, stem-loop 1 (SL1), SL2, and SL4. SL1 and SL2 are required for subgenomic RNA synthesis. The current study focuses on SL4, which contains two base-paired regions, SL4a and SL4b. A series of reverse genetic experiments show that SL4a is not required to be base paired. Neither the structure, the sequence, nor the putative 8-amino-acid open reading frame (ORF) in SL4b is required for viral replication. Viruses containing separate deletions of SL4a and SL4b are viable. However, deletion of SL4 is lethal, and genomes carrying this deletion are defective in directing subgenomic RNA synthesis. Deletion of (131)ACA(133) just 3' to SL4 has a profound impact on viral replication. Viruses carrying the (131)ACA(133) deletion were heterogeneous in plaque size. We isolated three viruses with second-site mutations in the 5'UTR which compensated for decreased plaque sizes, delayed growth kinetics, and lower titers associated with the (131)ACA(133) deletion. The second-site mutations are predicted to change either the spacing between SL1 and SL2 or that between SL2 and SL4 or to destabilize the proximal portion of SL4a in our model. A mutant constructed by replacing SL4 with a shorter sequence-unrelated stem-loop was viable. These results suggest that the proposed SL4 in the MHV 5'UTR functions in part as a spacer element that orients SL1, SL2, and the transcriptional regulatory sequence (TRS), and this spacer function may play an important role in directing subgenomic RNA synthesis.
author list (cited authors)
Yang, D., Liu, P., Giedroc, D. P., & Leibowitz, J.