Cereal yellow dwarf virus (CYDV) RNA has a 5′-terminal genome-linked protein (VPg). We have expressed the VPg region of the CYDV genome in bacteria and used the purified protein (bVPg) to raise an antiserum which was able to detect free VPg in extracts of CYDV-infected oat plants. A template-dependent RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) has been produced from a CYDV membrane-bound RNA polymerase by treatment with BAL 31 nuclease. The RdRp was template specific, being able to utilize templates from CYDV plus- and minus-strand RNAs but not those of three unrelated viruses, Red clover necrotic mosaic virus, Cucumber mosaic virus, and Tobacco mosaic virus.
RNA synthesis catalyzed by the RdRp required a 3′-terminal GU sequence and the presence of bVPg. Additionally, synthesis of minus-strand RNA on a plus-strand RNA template required the presence of a putative stem-loop structure near the 3′ terminus of CYDV RNA. The base-paired stem, a single-nucleotide (A) bulge in the stem, and the sequence of a tetraloop were all required for the template activity. Evidence was produced showing that minus-strand synthesis in vitro was initiated by priming by bVPg at the 3′ end of the template. The data are consistent with a model in which the RdRp binds to the stem-loop structure which positions the active site to recognize the 3′-terminal GU sequence for initiation of RNA synthesis by the addition of an A residue to VPg.
In vitro RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) systems have been established for several plus-strand RNA plant viruses and, along with in vivo methods, have been useful in elucidating the mechanisms of the virus RNA replication. Generally the isolated RdRp complexes are comprised of the virus RdRp per se, other virus replication proteins, and host proteins. In many cases, these RdRps are template specific and are able to initiate RNA synthesis de novo at or near the 3′ end of the template