The major coat-protein-binding element of turnip crinkle virus RNA was previously mapped in the region of the UAG termination codon in the viral polymerase gene. This region encompasses two of the high-affinity coat-protein-binding sites (Fa and Ff) that we suggested were physically associated in a stem-loop in a ribonucleoprotein complex involved in assembly initiation (Wei, Heaton, Morris, and Harrison, J. Mol. Biol. 214, 85-95, 1990). We have also demonstrated that this RNA element was capable of specific coat protein binding in vitro (Wei and Morris, J. Mol. Biol. 222, 437-443, 1991). We now provide physical evidence, by in vitro chemical and enzymatic probing of the viral RNA, that support the suggestion that the two coat-protein-binding sites base pair to form a stem structure (A/F stem) surrounding the UAG terminator in wild-type RNA. We have shown here that a mutant with seven conservative nucleotide substitutions in Fa does not accumulate to detectable levels in plants or protoplasts and that the A/F stem structure is drastically altered in this mutant. We suggest that the primary effect of this mutation is on replication rather than on a reduction in RNA stability resulting from a defect in encapsidation of the virion RNA because previous results have shown that encapsidation-deficient mutants have little or no effect on viral RNA replication (Hacker, Petty, Wei, and Morris, Virology 186, 1-8, 1992). The analysis of the A/F stem was extended by construction and characterization of a series of mutants and revertants that displayed variable levels of replication deficiency but minimal concomitant defect in encapsidation efficiency. The extent of the replication defect correlated with the predicted destabilization of the A/F stem structure. We conclude from these results that this RNA element is involved in viral replication, and we tentatively suggest that the A/F stem structure may be functionally involved in the readthrough translation of the viral polymerase.
ASJC Scopus subject areas