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RNA structure analysis of alphacoronavirus terminal genome regions

Madhugiri, Ramakanth, Fricke, Markus, Marz, Manja, Ziebuhr, John
Virus research 2014 v.194 pp. 76-89
Alphacoronavirus, RNA, bioinformatics, coevolution, genome, proteins, regulatory sequences
Coronavirus genome replication is mediated by a multi-subunit protein complex that is comprised of more than a dozen virally encoded and several cellular proteins. Interactions of the viral replicase complex with cis-acting RNA elements located in the 5′ and 3′-terminal genome regions ensure the specific replication of viral RNA. Over the past years, boundaries and structures of cis-acting RNA elements required for coronavirus genome replication have been extensively characterized in betacoronaviruses and, to a lesser extent, other coronavirus genera. Here, we review our current understanding of coronavirus cis-acting elements located in the terminal genome regions and use a combination of bioinformatic and RNA structure probing studies to identify and characterize putative cis-acting RNA elements in alphacoronaviruses. The study suggests significant RNA structure conservation among members of the genus Alphacoronavirus but also across genus boundaries. Overall, the conservation pattern identified for 5′ and 3′-terminal RNA structural elements in the genomes of alpha- and betacoronaviruses is in agreement with the widely used replicase polyprotein-based classification of the Coronavirinae, suggesting co-evolution of the coronavirus replication machinery with cognate cis-acting RNA elements.