Cooperation between different RNA virus genomes produces a new phenotype

Nat Commun. 2012;3:1235. doi: 10.1038/ncomms2252.


An RNA virus population generally evolves rapidly under selection pressure, because of high error rates of the viral RNA polymerase. Measles virus, an enveloped RNA virus, has a fusion protein mediating fusion of the viral envelope with the cell membrane. Here we observe that a non-fusogenic recombinant measles virus evolves, after passages, into mutant viruses which regain the ability to induce membrane fusion. Unexpectedly, we identify a mutant virus possessing two types of genomes within a single virion: one genome encoding the wild-type fusion protein, the other a mutant version with a single amino-acid substitution. Neither the wild-type nor mutant protein by itself is able to mediate membrane fusion, but both together exhibit enhanced fusion activity through hetero-oligomer formation. Our results reveal a molecular mechanism for the 'cooperation' between different RNA virus genomes, which may have implications in viral evolution and in the evolution of other macromolecules.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genome, Viral / genetics*
  • Genome, Viral / physiology
  • Measles virus / genetics
  • Measles virus / physiology
  • Membrane Fusion / genetics
  • Membrane Fusion / physiology
  • Phenotype
  • RNA Viruses / genetics*
  • RNA Viruses / physiology
  • Reassortant Viruses / genetics
  • Reassortant Viruses / physiology
  • Selection, Genetic / genetics
  • Selection, Genetic / physiology
  • Vero Cells
  • Viral Envelope Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Envelope Proteins / physiology
  • Viral Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Fusion Proteins / physiology


  • Viral Envelope Proteins
  • Viral Fusion Proteins