Computer analysis suggests a role for signal sequences in processing polyproteins of enveloped RNA viruses and as a mechanism of viral fusion

Virus Genes. 1989 May;2(3):223-39. doi: 10.1007/BF00125340.


We have used a computer program to scan the entire sequence of viral polyproteins for eucaryotic signal sequences. The method is based on that of von Heijne (1). The program calculates a score for each residue in a polyprotein. The score indicates the resemblance of each residue to that at the cleavage site of a typical N-terminal eucaryotic signal sequence. The program correctly predicts the known N-terminal signal sequence cleavage sites of several cellular and viral proteins. The analysis demonstrates that the polyproteins of enveloped RNA viruses--including the alphaviruses, flaviviruses, and bunyaviruses--contain several internal signal-sequence-like regions. The predicted cleavage site in these internal sequences are often known cleavage sites for processing of the polyprotein and are amongst the highest scoring residues with this algorithm. These results indicate a role for the cellular enzyme signal peptidase in the processing of several viral polyproteins. Not all high-scoring residues are sites of cleavage, suggesting a difference between N-terminal and internal signal sequences. This may reflect the secondary structure of the latter. Signal sequences were also found at the N-termini of the fusion proteins of the paramyxoviruses and the retroviruses. This suggests a mechanism of viral fusion analogous to that by which proteins are translocated through the membranes of the endoplasmic reticulum at synthesis.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Bunyaviridae / genetics
  • Bunyaviridae / physiology
  • Electronic Data Processing*
  • Endopeptidases / genetics
  • Endopeptidases / metabolism
  • Membrane Proteins*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Paramyxoviridae / genetics
  • Paramyxoviridae / physiology
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational*
  • Protein Sorting Signals / isolation & purification
  • Protein Sorting Signals / metabolism
  • Protein Sorting Signals / physiology*
  • RNA Viruses / genetics
  • RNA Viruses / physiology*
  • Serine Endopeptidases*
  • Software
  • Togaviridae / genetics
  • Togaviridae / physiology
  • Viral Envelope Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Envelope Proteins / physiology
  • Viral Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Fusion Proteins / physiology
  • Viral Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Proteins / metabolism*


  • Membrane Proteins
  • Protein Sorting Signals
  • Viral Envelope Proteins
  • Viral Fusion Proteins
  • Viral Proteins
  • Endopeptidases
  • Serine Endopeptidases
  • type I signal peptidase