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Identification of the cis-acting signal for minus-strand RNA synthesis of a murine coronavirus: implications for the role of minus-strand RNA in RNA replication and transcription

Identification of the cis-acting signal for minus-strand RNA synthesis of a murine coronavirus: implications for the role of minus-strand RNA in RNA replication and transcription

Journal of Virology 68(12): 8131-8140

Minus-strand RNA is the first RNA species made by plus-strand RNA viruses, such as mouse hepatitis virus (MHV), and serves as a template for subsequent RNA replication and transcription. The regulation of minus-strand RNA synthesis has been difficult to study because of the paucity of minus-strand RNA. We have optimized a ribonuclease (RNase) protection assay which enabled the detection of minus-strand RNA synthesis from nonreplicating RNAs, thus clearly separating minus-strand from plus-strand RNA synthesis. We used an MHV defective interfering (DI) RNA containing a chloramphenicol acetyltransferase gene as a reporter to determine the cis-acting signal for MHV minus-strand RNA synthesis. It was found that minus-strand RNAs existed in double-stranded RNA form in the cell. By using various deletion clones. we demonstrated that the cis-acting signal for minus-strand RNA synthesis resides in the 55 nucleotides from the 3' end plus poly(A) tail of the MHV genome. This is much shorter than the 436 nucleotides previously reported for the 3'-end replication signal. No specific upstream MHV sequence was required for the initiation of minus-strand RNA synthesis. This finding suggests that the requirement for minus-strand RNA synthesis is much less stringent than that for genomic and subgenomic plus-strand RNA synthesis and that some of the minus-strand RNAs made may not be functional since they may lack the recognition signals for RNA replication or transcription. We further showed that the DI clones which actively transcribed a subgenomic mRNA from an internal intergenic sequence synthesized much less minus-strand RNA than those clones which did not transcribe subgenomic mRNAs, indicating that minus-strand RNA synthesis was inhibited by transcription from an internal promoter of the same DI RNA. This result also suggests that the regulation of the quantities of subgenomic mRNAs is not at the point of minus-strand RNA synthesis but rather at plus-strand RNA synthesis. Furthermore, the finding that the leader sequence was not required for minus-strand RNA synthesis suggests that the leader RNA regulates mRNA transcription during plus-strand RNA synthesis.

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Accession: 008810779

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PMID: 7966604

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