A cis-acting mutation in the Sindbis virus junction region which affects subgenomic RNA synthesis

A. Grakoui, R. Levis, R. Raju, H. V. Huang, C. M. Rice

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51 Scopus citations


The synthesis of Sindbis virus minus-strand and genomic and subgenomic RNAs is believed to require specific cis-acting sequences or structures in the template RNAs and a combination of virus-specific proteins and host components which act in trans. A conserved sequence of about 21 nucleotides in the junction region and encompassing the start site for the subgenomic RNA has been proposed to function as the promoter on the minus-strand template for synthesis of the subgenomic RNA (J.-H. Ou, C.M. Rice, L. Dalgarno, E.G. Strauss, and J.H. Strauss, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 79: 5235-5239, 1982). We introduced a three-base insertion in this sequence, which also inserts a single amino acid near the COOH terminus of nsP4, in a cDNA clone of Sindbis virus from which infectious RNA transcripts can be generated. The phenotype of this mutant, called Toto1100CR4.1, was studied after RNA transfection of chicken embryo fibroblasts or BHK cells. The mutation leads to a drastic reduction in the level of the subgenomic RNA but does not alter the start site of the RNA. Probably as a consequence of depressed structural-protein synthesis, very few progeny virions are released and the mutant makes tiny or indistinct plaques even after prolonged incubation. The cis-acting effect of this mutation was demonstrated by incorporating either a wild-type or mutant junction region into a defective-interfering RNA and examining the relative synthesis of defective-interfering RNA-derived subgenomic RNA in vivo in the presence of wild-type helper virus. These results show that the junction region is recognized by yet unidentified viral trans-acting components for subgenomic RNA synthesis. When the Toto1100CR4.1 mutant was passaged in culture, plaque morphology variants readily arose. A total of 24 independent revertants were isolated, and 16 were characterized in detail. All revertants analyzed showed an increase in the level of subgenomic RNA synthesis. Sequence analysis of the junction region showed that all were pseudorevertants, with only two containing potentially compensating changes in the junction region. An assay was developed to identify revertants with second-site changes in trans-acting viral components involved in subgenomic RNA synthesis. At least two such revertants were identified. Mapping of these and other second-site compensating mutations may provide genetic clues as to which virus-specific protein(s) is responsible for interaction with the conserved junction region to promote subgenomic RNA synthesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5216-5227
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1989


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