Date of this Version
JOURNAL OF VIROLOGY, Jan. 2002, Vol. 76, No. 2, pp. 473–483, DOI: 10.1128/JVI.76.2.473–483.2002.
Citrus tristeza virus (CTV), a member of the Closteroviridae, has a 19.3-kb positive-stranded RNA genome that is organized into 12 open reading frames (ORFs) with the 10 3' genes expressed via a nested set of nine or ten 3'-coterminal subgenomic mRNAs (sgRNAs). Relatively large amounts of negative-stranded RNAs complementary to both genomic and sgRNAs accumulate in infected cells. As is characteristic of RNA viruses, wild-type CTV produced more positive than negative strands, with the plus-to-minus ratios of genomic and sgRNAs estimated at 10 to 20:1 and 40 to 50:1, respectively. However, a mutant with all of the 3' genes deleted replicated efficiently, but produced plus to minus strands at a markedly decreased ratio of 1 to 2:1. Deletion analysis of 3'-end genes revealed that the p23 ORF was involved in asymmetric RNA accumulation. A mutation which caused a frameshift after the fifth codon resulted in nearly symmetrical RNA accumulation, suggesting that the p23 protein, not a cis-acting element within the p23 ORF, controls asymmetric accumulation of CTV RNAs. Further in-frame deletion mutations in the p23 ORF suggested that amino acid residues 46 to 180, which contained RNA-binding and zinc finger domains, were indispensable for asymmetrical RNA accumulation, while the N-terminal 5 to 45 and C-terminal 181 to 209 amino acid residues were not absolutely required. Mutation of conserved cysteine residues to alanines in the zinc finger domain resulted in loss of activity of the p23 protein, suggesting involvement of the zinc finger in asymmetric RNA accumulation. The absence of p23 gene function was manifested by substantial increases in accumulation of negative-stranded RNAs and only modest decreases in positive-stranded RNAs. Moreover, the substantial decrease in the accumulation of negative-stranded coat protein (CP) sgRNA in the presence of the functional p23 gene resulted in a 12- to 15-fold increase in the expression of the CP gene. Apparently the excess negative-stranded sgRNA reduces the availability of the corresponding positive-stranded sgRNA as a messenger. Thus, the p23 protein controls asymmetric accumulation of CTV RNAs by downregulating negative-stranded RNA accumulation and indirectly increases expression of 3' genes.