Identification of a 1.4-kb-Long Sequence Located in the nsp12 and nsp13 Coding Regions of SARS-CoV-2 Genomic RNA That Mediates Efficient Viral RNA Packaging

Kaori Terasaki, Krishna Narayanan, Shinji Makino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

The specific packaging of the viral RNA genome into virus particles is an essential step in the replication cycle of coronaviruses (CoVs). Using a single-cycle, replicable severe acute respiratory syndrome CoV-2 (SARS-CoV-2) mutant, we demonstrated the preferential packaging of the SARS-CoV-2 genomic RNA into purified virus particles. Furthermore, based on the sequence of an efficiently packaged defective interfering RNA of SARS-CoV, a closely related CoV, that was generated after serial passages of SARS-CoV in cell culture, we designed a series of replication-competent SARS-CoV-2 minigenome RNAs to identify the specific viral RNA region that is important for SARS-CoV-2 RNA packaging into virus particles. We showed that a 1.4-kb-long sequence, derived from the nsp12 and nsp13 coding regions of the SARS-CoV-2 genomic RNA, is required for the efficient packaging of SARS-CoV-2 minigenome RNA into SARS-CoV-2 particles. In addition, we also showed that the presence of possibly the entire 1.4-kb-long sequence is important for the efficient packaging of SARS-CoV-2 RNA. Our findings highlight the differences between the RNA packaging sequence identified in SARS-CoV-2, a Sarbecovirus, and the packaging signal of mouse hepatitis virus (MHV), an Embecovirus, which is a 95-nt-long sequence located at the nsp15 coding region of MHV genomic RNA. Collectively, our data imply that both the location and the sequence/structural features of the RNA element(s) that drives the selective and efficient packaging of viral genomic RNA are not conserved among the subgenera Embecovirus and Sarbecovirus within the Betacoronavirus genus. IMPORTANCE Elucidating the mechanism of SARS-CoV-2 RNA packaging into virus particles is important for the rational design of antiviral drugs that inhibit this vital step in the replication cycle of CoVs. However, our knowledge about the RNA packaging mechanism in SARS-CoV-2, including the identification of the viral RNA region important for SARS-CoV-2 RNA packaging, is limited, primarily due to the logistical challenges of handing SARS-CoV-2 in biosafety level 3 (BSL3) facilities. Our study, using a single-cycle, replicable SARS-CoV-2 mutant, which can be handled in a BSL2 lab, demonstrated the preferential packaging of full-length SARS-CoV-2 genomic RNA into virus particles and identified a specific 1.4-kb-long RNA region in SARS-CoV-2 genomic RNA that is required for the efficient packaging of SARS-CoV-2 RNA into virus particles. The information generated in our study could be valuable for clarifying the mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 RNA packaging and for the development of targeted therapeutics against SARS-CoV-2 and other related CoVs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of virology
Volume97
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2023

Keywords

  • SARS-CoV-2
  • coronavirus
  • packaging signal
  • viral genome packaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology

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