Viral strategies of translation initiation: ribosomal shunt and reinitiation

Prog Nucleic Acid Res Mol Biol. 2002;72:1-39. doi: 10.1016/s0079-6603(02)72066-7.


Due to the compactness of their genomes, viruses are well suited to the study of basic expression mechanisms, including details of transcription, RNA processing, transport, and translation. In fact, most basic principles of these processes were first described in viral systems. Furthermore, viruses seem not to respect basic rules, and cases of "abnormal" expression strategies are quiet common, although such strategies are usually also finally observed in rare cases of cellular gene expression. Concerning translation, viruses most often violate Kozak's original rule that eukaryotic translation starts from a capped monocistronic mRNA and involves linear scanning to find the first suitable start codon. Thus, many viral cases have been described where translation is initiated from noncapped RNA, using an internal ribosome entry site. This review centers on other viral translation strategies, namely shunting and virus-controlled reinitiation as first described in plant pararetroviruses (Caulimoviridae). In shunting, major parts of a complex leader are bypassed and not melted by scanning ribosomes. In the Caulimoviridae, this process is coupled to reinitiation after translation of a small open reading frame; in other cases, it is possibly initiated upon pausing of the scanning ribosome. Most of the Caulimoviridae produce polycistronic mRNAs. Two basic mechanisms are used for their translation. Alternative translation of the downstream open reading frames in the bacilliform Caulimoviridae occurs by a leaky scanning mechanism, and reinitiation of polycistronic translation in many of the icosahedral Caulimoviridae is enabled by the action of a viral transactivator. Both of these processes are discussed here in detail and compared to related processes in other viruses and cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Eukaryotic Cells
  • Genes
  • Humans
  • Protein Biosynthesis / physiology*
  • Retroviridae / physiology
  • Ribosomes / physiology*
  • Virus Physiological Phenomena*