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Engineered Picornavirus VPg-RNA Substrates: Analysis of a Tyrosyl-RNA Phosphodiesterase Activity

Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Using poliovirus, the prototypic member of Picornaviridae, we have further characterized a host cell enzymatic activity found in uninfected cells, termed “unlinkase,” that recognizes and cleaves the unique 5′ tyrosyl-RNA phosphodiester bond found at the 5′ end of picornavirus virion RNAs. This bond connects VPg, a viral-encoded protein primer essential for RNA replication, to the viral RNA; it is cleaved from virion RNA prior to its engaging in protein synthesis as mRNA. Due to VPg retention on nascent RNA strands and replication templates, but not on viral mRNA, we hypothesize that picornaviruses utilize unlinkase activity as a means of controlling the ratio of viral RNAs that are translated versus those that either serve as RNA replication templates or are encapsidated. To test our hypothesis and further characterize this enzyme, we have developed a novel assay to detect unlinkase activity. We demonstrate that unlinkase activity can be detected using this assay, that this unique activity remains unchanged over the course of a poliovirus infection in HeLa cells, and that unlinkase activity is unaffected by the presence of exogenous VPg or anti-VPg antibodies. Furthermore, we have determined that unlinkase recognizes and cleaves a human rhinovirus-poliovirus chimeric substrate with the same efficiency as the poliovirus substrate.

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