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We determined the in vitro and in vivo translational efficiency mediated by the internal ribosomal entry site (IRES) from eight BVDV2 field isolates varying in virulence using a bicistronic reporter vector in rabbit reticulocyte lysates (RRL), and in primate and bovine cell lines. Using a T7-promoter system, the high virulence isolates had greater translational efficiencies in bovine lymphocytes (BL-3 cells), than did the low virulence isolates. The low virulence isolates translated with greater efficiencies than the high virulence isolates in RRL, African green monkey kidney (CV-1) and bovine turbinate (BT) cells. Our results demonstrate that despite a high degree of sequence identity in the 5′ untranslated region (UTR), subtle differences in the primary and secondary structures, as well as differences in cell lines, influence translational efficiencies.