During RNA elongation, the influenza A viral (IAV) RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) residues in the active site interact with the triphosphate moiety of nucleoside triphosphate (NTP) for catalysis. The molecular mechanisms by which they control the rate and fidelity of NTP incorporation remain elusive. Here, we demonstrated through enzymology, virology and computational approaches that the R239 and K235 in the PB1 subunit of RdRp are critical to controlling the activity and fidelity of transcription. Contrary to common beliefs that high-fidelity RdRp variants exert a slower incorporation rate, we discovered a first-of-its-kind, single lysine-to-arginine mutation on K235 exhibited enhanced fidelity and activity compared with wild-type. In particular, we employed a single-turnover NTP incorporation assay for the first time on IAV RdRp to show that K235R mutant RdRp possessed a 1.9-fold increase in the transcription activity of the cognate NTP and a 4.6-fold increase in fidelity compared to wild-type. Our all-atom molecular dynamics simulations further elucidated that the higher activity is attributed to the shorter distance between K235R and the triphosphate moiety of NTP compared with wild-type. These results provide novel insights into NTP incorporation and fidelity control mechanisms, which lay the foundation for the rational design of IAV vaccine and antiviral targets.
© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.