The nonsegmented negative strand (NNS) RNA viruses include some of the most problematic human, animal and plant pathogens extant: for example, rabies virus, Ebola virus, respiratory syncytial virus, the parainfluenza viruses, measles and infectious hemapoietic necrosis virus. The key feature of transcriptional control in the NNS RNA viruses is polymerase entry at a single 3′ proximal site followed by obligatory sequential transcription of the linear array of genes. The levels of gene expression are primarily regulated by their position on the genome. The promoter proximal gene is transcribed in greatest abundance and each successive downstream gene is synthesized in progressively lower amounts due to attenuation of transcription at each successive gene junction. In addition, NNS RNA virus gene expression is regulated by cis-acting sequences that reside at the beginning and end of each gene and the intergenic junctions. Using vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), the prototypic NNS, many of these control elements have been identified. The signals for transcription initiation and 5′ end modification and for 3′ end polyadenylation and termination have been elucidated. The sequences that determine the ability of the polymerase to slip on the template to generate polyadenylate have been identified and polyadenylation has been shown to be template dependent and integral to the termination process. Transcriptional termination is a key element in control of gene expression of the negative strand RNA viruses and a means by which expression of individual genes may be silenced or regulated within the framework of a single transcriptional promoter. In addition, the fundamental question of the site of entry of the polymerase during transcription has been reexamined and our understanding of the process altered and updated. The ability to engineer changes into infectious viruses has confirmed the action of these elements and as a consequence, it has been shown that transcriptional control is key to controlling the outcome of a viral infection. Finally, the principles of transcriptional regulation have been utilized to develop a new paradigm for systematic attenuation of virulence to develop live attenuated viral vaccines.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-353
Number of pages17
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Gene Structure and Expression
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 13 2002


  • Negative strand RNA genome
  • RNA virus
  • Transcription


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