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A 5'-proximal RNA sequence of murine coronavirus as a potential initiation site for genomic-length mRNA transcription

A 5'-proximal RNA sequence of murine coronavirus as a potential initiation site for genomic-length mRNA transcription

Journal of Virology 70(2): 705-711

Coronavirus transcription is a discontinuous process, involving interactions between a trans-acting leader and the intergenic transcription initiation sequences. A 9-nucleotide (nt) sequence (UUUAUAAAC), which is located immediately downstream of the leader at the 5' terminus of the mouse hepatitis virus (MHV) genomic RNA, contains a sequence resembling the consensus intergenic sequence (UCUAAAC). It has been shown previously that the presence of the 9-nt sequence facilitates leader RNA switching and may enhance subgenomic mRNA transcription. It is unclear how the 9-nt sequence exerts these functions. In this study, we inserted the 9-nt sequence into a defective interfering (DI) RNA reporter system and demonstrated that mRNA transcription could be initiated from the 9-nt sequence almost as efficiently as from the intergenic sequence between genes 6 and 7. Sequence analysis of the mRNAs showed that the 9-nt sequence served as a site of fusion between the leaders and mRNA. The transcription initiation function of the 9-nt sequence could not be substituted by other 5'-terminal sequences. When the entire 5'-terminal sequence, including four copies of the UCUAA sequence plus the 9-nt sequence, was present, transcription could be initiated from any of the UCUAA copies or the 9-nt sequence, resulting in different copy numbers of the UCUAA sequence and the deletion of the 9-nt sequence in some mRNAs. All of these heterogeneous RNA species were also detected from the 5'-terminal region of the viral genomic-length RNA in MHV-infected cells. These results thus suggest that the heterogeneity of the copy number of UCUAA sequences at the 5' end, the deletion of the 9-nt sequence in viral and DI RNAs, and the leader RNA switching are the results of transcriptional initiation from the 9-nt site. They also show that an mRNA species (mRNA 1) that lacks the 9-nt sequence can be synthesized during MHV infection. Therefore, MHV genomic RNA replication and mRNA 1 transcription may be distinguishable.

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Accession: 008019572

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PMID: 8551606

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