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Coronavirus leader RNA regulates and initiates subgenomic mRNA transcription both in trans and in cis

Coronavirus leader RNA regulates and initiates subgenomic mRNA transcription both in trans and in cis

Journal of Virology 68(8): 4738-4746

Mouse hepatitis virus (MHV), a coronavirus, utilizes a discontinuous transcription mechanism for subgenomic mRNA synthesis. Previous studies (C.-L. Liao and M. C. C. Lai, J. Virol. 68: 4727-4737, 1994) have demonstrated that an upstream cis-acting leader sequence serves as a transcriptional enhancer, but the mechanism of transcriptional regulation is not clear. In this study, we constructed a series of defective interfering (DI) RNAs containing the chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) gene behind a differentially expressed transcription initiation (intergenic) sequence (for mRNA2-1). These DI RNAs had different copy numbers of the UCUAA pentanucleotide sequence at the 3' end of the leader. Transfection of these DI RNA constructs into cells infected with a helper MHV, which contains either two or three UCUAA copies at the 3' end of the leader, resulted in differential expression of CAT activities. We demonstrated that the copy number of UCUAA repeats in the leaders of both helper viral and DI RNAs affected the level of CAT activity, suggesting that MHV leader RNA could regulate both in trans and in cis the transcription of subgenomic mRNAs. The leader RNA of subgenomic mRNAs was derived from either the trans- or the cis-acting leader. Furthermore, insertion of a UA-rich sequence (UUUAUAAAC) immediately downstream of the leader in DI RNA, to match the sequence of helper viral RNA, enhanced the CAT activity by threefold, suggesting that this nine-nucleotide sequence is a cis-acting element. Interestingly, when the nine-nucleotide sequence was absent in DI RNA, the leaders of subgenomic mRNAs were exclusively derived from the helper virus. In contrast, when the nine-nucleotide sequence was present in DI RNA, the leaders were derived from both helper viral and DI RNAs. These results suggest that the nine-nucleotide sequence either is required for the leader RNA to initiate mRNA synthesis or, alternatively, serves as a transcription terminator for the leader RNA synthesis. However, when a constitutively expressed intergenic sequence (for mRNA7) was used, no difference in transcription efficiency was noted, regardless of the copy number of UCUAA in the DI RNA and helper virus. This study thus indicates that MHV subgenomic RNA transcription requires the interaction among the intergenic (promoter) sequence, a trans-acting leader, and a cis-acting leader sequence. A novel model of transcriptional regulation of coronavirus subgenomic mRNAs is presented.

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Accession: 008391185

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PMID: 8035476

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