Rhopalosiphum padi virus (RhPV) is an aphid-infecting virus with a 10-kb ssRNA genome that contains two large open reading frames (ORFs). ORF1 and ORF2 encode the nonstructural and structural polyproteins, respectively. Both ORFs are preceded by noncoding regions of 500 nt that could function as internal ribosome entry segments (IRESes). The sequence for ORF2 lacks an obvious initiation codon, but an out-of-frame AUG codon is present that could translate ORF2 through a +1 frameshift. To investigate the mechanisms of translation initiation of ORF2, a series of point and deletion mutations were constructed and transcribed and translated in vitro. A bicistronic plasmid containing two copies of the RhPV intergenic region translated both ORFs efficiently, indicating that the region functioned as an IRES in vitro. Deletion analysis showed that the region required for activity of the IRES extended from 178 nt upstream and 6 nt downstream of the 5' border of ORF2. Changes in the out-of-frame AUG codon had little effect on translation initiation, but mutations that included the first and second codons of ORF2 or that disrupted a putative pseudoknot structure near the 3' end of the IRES failed to initiate protein synthesis. Sequence analysis of the in vitro synthesized proteins showed that the first amino acid of the polyprotein corresponded to the second codon of ORF2. These results show that in vitro the noncoding region upstream of RhPV ORF2 functions as an IRES that contains a pseudoknot that directs translation initiation at a non-AUG codon. If the in vitro synthesized proteins have not been processed by an aminopeptidase, translation is initiated at the second (GCA) codon of ORF2. (C) 2000 Academic Press.
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