West Nile (WN) virus is the most widespread among flaviviruses, but until recently it was not known on the American continent. We describe here design of a subgenomic replicon, as well as a full-length infectious clone of the lineage II WN strain, which appeared surprisingly stable compared to other flavivirus infectious clones. This infectious clone was used to investigate effects of 5'- and 3'-nonrelated sequences on virus replication and infectivity of synthetic RNA. While a long nonrelated sequence at the 3'-end delayed but did not prevent establishment of the productive infectious cycle, a much shorter extra sequence at the 5'-end completely abrogated virus replication. Replacement of the conserved 5'-adenosine residue substantially delayed, but did not prevent, establishment of virus infection. In all cases, the recovered virus had restored its authentic 5'- and 3'-end genome sequences. However, the presence of extensive nonrelated sequences at both 5'- and 3'-ends could not be repaired.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.