Multiple Viral Protein Genome-Linked Proteins Compensate for Viral Translation in a Positive-Sense Single-Stranded RNA Virus Infection

J Virol. 2022 Sep 14;96(17):e0069922. doi: 10.1128/jvi.00699-22. Epub 2022 Aug 22.


Viral protein genome-linked (VPg) protein plays an essential role in protein-primed replication of plus-stranded RNA viruses. VPg is covalently linked to the 5' end of the viral RNA genome via a phosphodiester bond typically at a conserved amino acid. Whereas most viruses have a single VPg, some viruses have multiple VPgs that are proposed to have redundant yet undefined roles in viral replication. Here, we use cricket paralysis virus (CrPV), a dicistrovirus that has four nonidentical copies of VPg, as a model to characterize the role of VPg copies in infection. Dicistroviruses contain two main open reading frames (ORFs) that are driven by distinct internal ribosome entry sites (IRESs). We systematically generated single and combinatorial deletions and mutations of VPg1 to VPg4 within the CrPV infectious clone and monitored viral yield in Drosophila S2 cells. Deletion of one to three VPg copies progressively decreased viral yield and delayed viral replication, suggesting a threshold number of VPgs for productive infection. Mass spectrometry analysis of CrPV VPg-linked RNAs revealed viral RNA linkage to either a serine or threonine in VPg, mutations of which in all VPgs attenuated infection. Mutating serine 4 in a single VPg abolished viral infection, indicating a dominant negative effect. Using viral minigenome reporters that monitor dicistrovirus 5' untranslated (UTR) and IRES translation revealed a relationship between VPg copy number and the ratio of distinct IRES translation activities. We uncovered a novel viral strategy whereby VPg copies in dicistrovirus genomes compensate for the relative IRES translation efficiencies to promote infection. IMPORTANCE Genetic duplication is exceedingly rare in small RNA viral genomes, as there is selective pressure to prevent RNA genomes from expanding. However, some small RNA viruses encode multiple copies of a viral protein, most notably an unusual viral protein that is linked to the viral RNA genome. Here, we investigate a family of viruses that contains multiple viral protein genome-linked proteins and reveal a novel viral strategy whereby viral protein copy number counterbalances differences in viral protein synthesis mechanisms.

Keywords: RNA; RNA virus; VPg; dicistrovirus; insect viruses; picornaviruses; polyprotein; replication; virology; virus.

MeSH terms

  • 5' Untranslated Regions / genetics
  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Dicistroviridae* / genetics
  • Dicistroviridae* / metabolism
  • Drosophila / cytology
  • Drosophila / virology
  • Genome, Viral* / genetics
  • Internal Ribosome Entry Sites / genetics
  • Mutation
  • Protein Biosynthesis*
  • RNA Virus Infections* / virology
  • RNA, Viral* / genetics
  • Serine / metabolism
  • Threonine / metabolism
  • Viral Load
  • Viral Proteins* / biosynthesis
  • Viral Proteins* / genetics
  • Viral Proteins* / metabolism


  • 5' Untranslated Regions
  • Internal Ribosome Entry Sites
  • RNA, Viral
  • Viral Proteins
  • Threonine
  • Serine

Supplementary concepts

  • Cricket paralysis virus