Analysis of intermolecular RNA-RNA recombination by rubella virus

Sandra D. Adams, Wen Pin Tzeng, Min Hsin Chen, Teryl K. Frey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


To investigate whether rubella virus (RUB) undergoes intermolecular RNA-RNA recombination, cells were cotransfected with pairs of in vitro transcripts from genomic cDNA plasmid vectors engineered to contain nonoverlapping deletions: the replicative transcript maintained the 5′-proximal nonstructural (NS) ORF (which contained the replicase, making it RNA replication competent), had a deletion in the 3′-proximal structural protein (SP) ORF, and maintained the 3′ end of the genome, including the putative 3′ cis-acting elements (CSE), while the nonreplicative transcript consisted of the 3′ half of the genome including the SP-ORF and 3′ CSE. Cotransfection yielded plaque-forming virus that synthesized the standard genomic and subgenomic RNAs and thus was generated by RNA-RNA recombination. Using transcripts tagged with a 3′-terminal deletion, it was found that recombinants contained the 3′ end derived from the replicative strand, indicating a cis-preference for initiation of negative-strand synthesis. In cotransfections in which the replicative transcript lacked the 3′ CSE, recombination occurred, albeit at lower efficiency, indicating that initiation in trans from the NS-ORF can occur. The 3′ CSE was sufficient as a nonreplicative transcript, showing that it can serve as a promoter for negative-strand RNA synthesis. While deletion mutagenesis showed that the presence of the junction untranslated region (J-UTR) between the ORFs appeared to be necessary on both transcripts for recombination in this region of the genome, analysis with transcripts tagged with restriction sites showed that the J-UTR was not a hot spot for recombination compared to neighboring regions in both ORFs. Sequence analysis of recombinants revealed that both precise (homologous) and imprecise recombination (aberrant, homologous resulting in duplications) occurred; however, imprecise recombination only involved the J-UTR or the 3′ end of the NS-ORF and the J-UTR (maintaining the NS-ORF), indicating selection pressure against duplications in other regions of the genome.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)258-271
Number of pages14
Issue number2
StatePublished - 10 May 2003


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