Mapping RNA-capsid interactions and RNA secondary structure within authentic virus particles using next-generation sequencing

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To characterize RNA-capsid binding sites genome-wide within mature RNA virus particles, we have developed a Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) platform: Photo-Activatable Ribonucleoside Cross-Linking (PAR-CL). In PAR-CL, 4-thiouracil is incorporated into the encapsidated genomes of authentic virus particles and subsequently UV-crosslinked to adjacent capsid proteins. We demonstrate that PAR-CL can readily and reliably identify capsid binding sites in genomic viral RNA by detecting crosslink-specific uridine to cytidine transitions in NGS data. Using Flock House virus (FHV) as a model system, we identified highly consistent and significant PAR-CL signals across virus RNA genome indicating a clear tropism of the encapsidated RNA genome. Certain interaction sites correlate to previously identified FHV RNA motifs. We additionally performed dimethyl sulfate mutational profiling with sequencing (DMS-MaPseq) to generate a high-resolution profile of single-stranded genomic RNA inside viral particles. Combining PAR-CL and DMS-MaPseq reveals that the predominant RNA-capsid sites favor double-stranded RNA regions. We disrupted secondary structures associated with PAR-CL sites using synonymous mutations, resulting in varied effects to virus replication, propagation, and packaging. Certain mutations showed substantial deficiency in virus replication, suggesting these RNA-capsid sites are multifunctional. These provide further evidence to support that FHV packaging and replication are highly coordinated and inter-dependent events.Icosahedral RNA viruses must package their genetic cargo into the restrictive and tight confines of the protected virions. High resolution structures of RNA viruses have been solved by Cryo-EM and crystallography, but the encapsidated RNA often eluded visualization due to the icosahedral averaging imposed during image reconstruction. Asymmetrical reconstructions of some icosahedral RNA virus particles have revealed that the encapsidated RNAs conform to specific structures, which may be related to programmed assembly pathway or an energy-minima for RNA folding during or after encapsidation. Despite these advances, determining whether encapsidated RNA genomes conform to a single structure and determining what regions of the viral RNA genome interact with the inner surface of the capsid shell remains challenging. Furthermore, it remains to be determined whether there exists a single RNA structure with conserved topology in RNA virus particles or an ensemble of genomic RNA structures. This is important as resolving these features will inform the elusive structures of the asymmetrically encapsidated genomic material and how virus particles are assembled.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Jul 30 2019


  • DMS-MaPseq
  • Flock House virus
  • photo-activatable ribonucleoside cross-linking
  • RNA packaging
  • virus assembly

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)

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