For any of the enveloped RNA viruses studied to date, recognition of a specific RNA packaging signal by the virus's nucleocapsid (N) protein is the first step described in the process of viral RNA packaging. In the murine coronavirus a selective interaction between the viral transmembrane envelope protein M and the viral ribonucleoprotein complex, composed of N protein and viral RNA containing a short cis-acting RNA element, the packaging signal, determines the selective RNA packaging into virus particles. In this report we show that expressed coronavirus envelope protein M specifically interacted with coexpressed noncoronavirus RNA transcripts containing the short viral packaging signal in the absence of coronavirus N protein. Furthermore, this M protein-packaging signal interaction led to specific packaging of the packaging signal-containing RNA transcripts into coronavirus-like particles in the absence of N protein. These findings not only highlight a novel RNA packaging mechanism for an enveloped virus, where the specific RNA packaging can occur without the core or N protein, but also point to a new, biologically important general model of precise and selective interaction between transmembrane proteins and specific RNA elements.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science