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Unusual heterogeneity of leader-mRNA fusion in a murine coronavirus: implications for the mechanism of RNA transcription and recombination



Unusual heterogeneity of leader-mRNA fusion in a murine coronavirus: implications for the mechanism of RNA transcription and recombination



Journal of Virology 68(10): 6626-6633



Coronavirus mRNA transcription was thought to be regulated by the interaction between the leader RNA and the intergenic sequence (IS), probably involving direct RNA-RNA interactions between complementary sequences. In this study, we found that a particular strain of mouse hepatitis virus, JHM2c, which has a deletion of a 9-nucleotide (nt) sequence (UUUAUAAAC) immediately downstream of the leader RNA, transcribed subgenomic mRNA species containing a whole array of heterogeneous leader fusion sites. Using a transfected defective interfering RNA which contains an IS and a reporter (chloramphenicol acetyltransferase) gene and JHM2c as a helper virus, we demonstrated that subgenomic mRNAs transcribed from the defective interfering RNAs were extremely heterogeneous. The leader-mRNA fusion sites in this virus can be grouped into five types. In type I, the leader is fused with the consensus IS of the template RNA at a site within the UCUAA repeats, consistent with the classical model of discontinuous transcription. In type II, the leader is fused with the consensus IS as in type I, but the leader of mRNA contains some nucleotide substitutions within the UCUAA repeats. In type III, the leader is fused with mRNAs at a site either upstream or downstream of the consensus IS. The sequences around the fusion sites bear little or no homology to the leader. As a result, mRNAs contain sequences complementary to the template sequences upstream of the IS or have sequence deletions downstream of the IS. In type IV, the leader is fused to the IS at the 9-nt sequence immediately downstream of the UCUAA repeats. In type V, the leader-mRNA fusion site contains a duplication of a portion of the leader sequence or an insertion of nontemplated sequences which are not present in either leader or template RNA. These patterns of leader-mRNA fusion resemble the aberrant homologous recombination frequently seen in other RNA viruses. The degree of heterogeneity of leader fusion sites is dependent on the sequences of both the leader RNA and IS. These results suggest that leader-mRNA fusion in coronavirus transcription does not require direct RNA-RNA interaction between complementary sequences. A modified model of RNA transcription and recombination based on protein-RNA and protein-protein interactions is proposed. This study also provides a paradigm for aberrant homologous recombination.

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Accession: 009697499

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PMID: 8083998


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