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RNA recombination in a coronavirus: recombination between viral genomic RNA and transfected RNA fragments

RNA recombination in a coronavirus: recombination between viral genomic RNA and transfected RNA fragments

Journal of Virology 66(10): 6117-6124

Mouse hepatitis virus (MHV), a coronavirus, has been shown to undergo a high frequency of RNA recombination both in tissue culture and in animal infection. So far, RNA recombination has been demonstrated only between genomic RNAs of two coinfecting viruses. To understand the mechanism of RNA recombination and to further explore the potential of RNA recombination, we studied whether recombination could occur between a replicating MHV RNA and transfected RNA fragments. We first used RNA fragments which represented the 5' end of genomic-sense sequences of MHV RNA for transfection. By using polymerase chain reaction amplification with two specific primers, we were able to detect recombinant RNAs which incorporated the transfected fragment into the 5' end of the viral RNA in the infected cells. Surprisingly, even the anti-genomic-sense RNA fragments complementary to the 5' end of MHV genomic RNA could also recombine with the MHV genomic RNAs. This observation suggests that RNA recombination can occur during both positive- and negative-strand RNA synthesis. Furthermore, the recombinant RNAs could be detected in the virion released from the infected cells even after several passages of virus in tissue culture cells, indicating that these recombinant RNAs represented functional virion RNAs. The crossover sites of these recombinants were detected throughout the transfected RNA fragments. However, when an RNA fragment with a nine-nucleotide (CUUUAUAAA) deletion immediately downstream of a pentanucleotide (UCUAA) repeat sequence in the leader RNA was transfected into MHV-infected cells, most of the recombinants between this RNA and the MHV genome contained crossover sites near this pentanucleotide repeat sequence. In contrast, when exogenous RNAs with the intact nine-nucleotide sequence were used in similar experiments, the crossover sites of recombinants in viral genomic RNA could be detected at more-downstream sites. This study demonstrated that recombination can occur between replicating MHV RNAs and RNA fragments which do not replicate, suggesting the potential of RNA recombination for genetic engineering.

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Accession: 007760967

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PMID: 1326662

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