An in vitro RNA synthesis assay for rabies virus defines ribonucleoprotein interactions critical for polymerase activity

Benjamin Morin, Bo Liang, Erica Gardner, Robin A. Ross, Sean P.J. Whelan

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22 Scopus citations


We report an in vitro RNA synthesis assay for the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRP) of rabies virus (RABV). We expressed RABV large polymerase protein (L) in insect cells from a recombinant baculovirus vector and the phosphoprotein cofactor (P) in Escherichia coli and purified the resulting proteins by affinity and size exclusion chromatography. Using chemically synthesized short RNA corresponding to the first 19 nucleotides (nt) of the rabies virus genome, we demonstrate that L alone initiates synthesis on naked RNA and that P serves to enhance the initiation and processivity of the RdRP. The L-P complex lacks full processivity, which we interpret to reflect the lack of the viral nucleocapsid protein (N) on the template. Using this assay, we define the requirements in P for stimulation of RdRP activity as residues 11 to 50 of P and formally demonstrate that ribavirin triphosphate (RTP) inhibits the RdRP. By comparing the properties of RABV RdRP with those of the related rhabdovirus, vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), we demonstrate that both polymerases can copy the heterologous promoter sequence. The requirements for engagement of the N-RNA template of VSV by its polymerase are provided by the C-terminal domain (CTD) of P. A chimeric RABV P protein in which the oligomerization domain (OD) and the CTD were replaced by those of VSV P stimulated RABV RdRP activity on naked RNA but was insufficient to permit initiation on the VSV N-RNA template. This result implies that interactions between L and the template N are also required for initiation of RNA synthesis, extending our knowledge of ribonucleoprotein interactions that are critical for gene expression.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere01508-16
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2017


  • In vitro
  • Phosphoprotein
  • Polymerase
  • Rabies
  • Ribavirin


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