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Role of nucleotides immediately flanking the transcription-regulating sequence core in coronavirus subgenomic mRNA synthesis

Role of nucleotides immediately flanking the transcription-regulating sequence core in coronavirus subgenomic mRNA synthesis

Journal of Virology 79(4): 2506-2516

The generation of subgenomic mRNAs in coronavirus involves a discontinuous mechanism of transcription by which the common leader sequence, derived from the genome 5' terminus, is fused to the 5' end of the mRNA coding sequence (body). Transcription-regulating sequences (TRSs) precede each gene and include a conserved core sequence (CS) surrounded by relatively variable sequences (5' TRS and 3' TRS). Regulation of transcription in coronaviruses has been studied by reverse-genetics analysis of the sequences immediately flanking a unique CS in the Transmissible gastroenteritis virus genome (CS-S2), located inside the S gene, that does not lead to detectable amounts of the corresponding mRNA, in spite of its canonical sequence. The transcriptional inactivity of CS-S2 was genome position independent. The presence of a canonical CS was not sufficient to drive transcription, but subgenomic synthesis requires a minimum base pairing between the leader TRS (TRS-L) and the complement of the body TRS (cTRS-B) provided by the CS and its adjacent nucleotides. A good correlation was observed between the free energy of TRS-L and cTRS-B duplex formation and the levels of subgenomic mRNA S2, demonstrating that base pairing between the leader and body beyond the CS is a determinant regulation factor in coronavirus transcription. In TRS mutants with increasing complementarity between TRS-L and cTRS-B, a tendency to reach a plateau in DeltaG values was observed, suggesting that a more precise definition of the TRS limits might be proposed, specifically that it consists of the central CS and around 4 nucleotides flanking 5' and 3' the CS. Sequences downstream of the CS exert a stronger influence on the template-switching decision according to a model of polymerase strand transfer and template switching during minus-strand synthesis.

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Accession: 012526450

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PMID: 15681451

DOI: 10.1128/jvi.79.4.2506-2516.2005

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