Helsingin yliopisto


Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

Molecular details of phage phi6 RNA-dependent RNA synthesis

Minni Koivunen

Doctoral dissertation, December 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Biosciences, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, General microbiology.

For most RNA viruses RNA-dependent RNA polymerases (RdRPs) encoded by the virus are responsible for the entire RNA metabolism. Thus, RdRPs are critical components in the viral life cycle. However, it is not fully understood how these important enzymes function during viral replication. Double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) viruses perform the synthesis of their RNA genome within a proteinacous viral particle containing an RdRP as a minor constituent. The phi6 bacteriophage is the best-studied dsRNA virus, providing an excellent background for studies of its RNA synthesis. The purified recombinant phi6 RdRP is highly active in vitro and it possesses both RNA replication and transcription activities. The crystal structure of the phi6 polymerase, solved in complex with a number of ligands, provides a working model for detailed in vitro studies of RNA-dependent RNA polymerization.

In this thesis, the primer-independent initiation of the phi6 RdRP was studied in vitro using biochemical and structural methods. A C-terminal, four-amino-acid-long loop protruding into the central cavity of the phi6 RdRP has been suggested to stabilize the incoming nucleotides of the initiation complex formation through stacking interactions. A similar structural element has been found from several other viral RdRPs. In this thesis, this so-called initiation platform loop was subjected to site-directed mutagenesis to address its role in the initiation. It was found that the initiation mode of the mutants is primer-dependent, requiring either an oligonucleotide primer or a back-priming initiation mechanism for the RNA synthesis. The crystal structure of a mutant RdRP with altered initiation platform revealed a set of contacts important for primer-independent initiation. Since phi6 RdRP is structurally and functionally homologous to several viral RdRPs, among them the hepatitis C virus RdRP, these results provide further general insight to understand primer-independent initiation.

In this study it is demonstrated that manganese phasing could be used as a practical tool for solving structures of large proteins with a bound manganese ion. The phi6 RdRP was used as a case study to obtain phases for crystallographic analysis. Manganese ions are naturally bound to the phi6 RdRP at the palm domain of the enzyme. In a crystallographic experiment, X-ray diffraction data from a phi6 RdRP crystal were collected at a wavelength of 1.89 , which is the K edge of manganese. With this data an automatically built model of the core region of the protein could be obtained.

Finally, in this work terminal nucleotidyl transferase (TNTase) activity of the phi6 RdRP was documented in the isolated polymerase as well as in the viral particle. This is the first time that such an activity has been reported in a polymerase of a dsRNA virus. The phi6 RdRP used uridine triphosphates as the sole substrate in a TNTase reaction but could accept several heterologous templates. The RdRP was able to add one or a few non-templated nucleotides to the 3' end of the single- or double-stranded RNA substrate. Based on the results on particle-mediated TNTase activity and previous structural information of the polymerase, a model for termination of the RNA-dependent RNA synthesis is suggested in this thesis.

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Last updated 24.11.2006

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