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Published November 1989 | Published
Journal Article Open

Processing the nonstructural polyproteins of Sindbis virus: nonstructural proteinase is in the C-terminal half of nsP2 and functions both in cis and in trans


The processing of the Sindbis virus nonstructural polyprotein translated in vitro has been studied. When Sindbis virus genomic RNA was translated in a reticulocyte lysate, polyprotein P123 was cleaved efficiently to produce nsP1, nsP2, and nsP3. Inhibition of this processing by anti-nsP2 antibodies, but not by antibodies specific for nsP1, nsP3, or nsP4, suggested that the viral proteinase was present in nsP2. To localize the proteolytic activity more precisely, deletions were made in a full-length cDNA clone of Sindbis virus, and RNA was transcribed from these constructs with SP6 RNA polymerase and translated in vitro. Although virtually all of the nsP1, nsP3, and nsP4 sequences could be deleted without affecting processing, deletions in the N-terminal half of nsP2 led to aberrant processing, and deletions in the C-terminal half abolished proteolysis. However, inactive polyproteins containing the nsP2 deletions could be processed by exogenously supplied proteins translated from virion RNA, demonstrating that cleavage was virus specific and not due to a protease present in the reticulocyte lysate and that the deleted polyproteins still served as substrates for the enzyme. From these results and from experiments in which processing was studied at increasingly higher dilution, we have concluded the following: (i) the viral nonstructural proteinase is located in the C-terminal half of nsP2; (ii) in the P123 precursor the cleavage between nsP2 and nsP3 occurs efficiently as a bimolecular reaction (in trans) to remove nsP3, while the bond between nsP1 and nsP2 is cleaved inefficiently, but detectably, in trans, but no autoproteolysis of P123 was detected; (iii) once nsP3 has been removed, the bond between nsP1 and nsP2 in the P12 precursor is cleaved efficiently by autoproteolysis (in cis). This mode of processing leads to a slow rate of cleavage, particularly early in infection, suggesting that the polyproteins might play roles in virus RNA replication distinct from those of the cleaved products. A hypothesis is presented that the proteinase is a thiol protease related to papain.

Additional Information

Copyright © 1989 by the American Society for Microbiology. Received 26 May 1989/Accepted 24 July 1989. We are grateful to E. Strauss for many helpful discussions and for considerable assistance in preparation of the manuscript and to M. Schlesinger and F. Bazan for furnishing manuscripts before publication. This work was supported by Public Health Service grants A110793 and A120612 from the National Institutes of Health and grant DMB8617372 from the National Science Foundation.

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