A freeze frame view of vesicular stomatitis virus transcription defines a minimal length of RNA for 5' processing

PLoS Pathog. 2011 Jun;7(6):e1002073. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1002073. Epub 2011 Jun 2.


The RNA synthesis machinery of vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) comprises the genomic RNA encapsidated by the viral nucleocapsid protein (N) and associated with the RNA dependent RNA polymerase, the viral components of which are a large protein (L) and an accessory phosphoprotein (P). The 241 kDa L protein contains all the enzymatic activities necessary for synthesis of the viral mRNAs, including capping, cap methylation and polyadenylation. Those RNA processing reactions are intimately coordinated with nucleotide polymerization such that failure to cap results in termination of transcription and failure to methylate can result in hyper polyadenylation. The mRNA processing reactions thus serve as a critical check point in viral RNA synthesis which may control the synthesis of incorrectly modified RNAs. Here, we report the length at which viral transcripts first gain access to the capping machinery during synthesis. By reconstitution of transcription in vitro with highly purified recombinant polymerase and engineered templates in which we omitted sites for incorporation of UTP, we found that transcripts that were 30-nucleotides in length were uncapped, whereas those that were 31-nucleotides in length contained a cap structure. The minimal RNA length required for mRNA cap addition was also sufficient for methylation since the 31-nucleotide long transcripts were methylated at both ribose-2'-O and guanine-N-7 positions. This work provides insights into the spatial relationship between the active sites for the RNA dependent RNA polymerase and polyribonucleotidyltransferase responsible for capping of the viral RNA. We combine the present findings with our recently described electron microscopic structure of the VSV polymerase and propose a model of how the spatial arrangement of the capping activities of L may influence nucleotide polymerization.

MeSH terms

  • 5' Flanking Region / genetics
  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Guanine / metabolism
  • Methylation
  • Nucleocapsid / genetics
  • Organisms, Genetically Modified
  • RNA Caps / genetics
  • RNA Caps / metabolism
  • RNA Replicase / genetics
  • RNA Replicase / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism*
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • RNA, Viral / metabolism*
  • Ribose / metabolism
  • Spodoptera
  • Transcription, Genetic*
  • Uridine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Vesicular Stomatitis / virology
  • Vesiculovirus / genetics
  • Vesiculovirus / metabolism*
  • Viral Nonstructural Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Nonstructural Proteins / metabolism*
  • Viral Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Proteins / metabolism
  • Virus Replication / genetics


  • RNA Caps
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Viral
  • Viral Nonstructural Proteins
  • Viral Proteins
  • Guanine
  • Ribose
  • RNA Replicase
  • Uridine Triphosphate