Short Direct Repeats in the 3' Untranslated Region Are Involved in Subgenomic Flaviviral RNA Production

Qiu Yan Zhang, Xiao Feng Li, Xiaolin Niu, Na Li, Hong Jiang Wang, Cheng Lin Deng, Han Qing Ye, Xing Yao Huang, Qi Chen, Yan Peng Xu, Hao Long Dong, Xiao Dan Li, Hui Zhao, Pei Yong Shi, Zhi Ming Yuan, Peng Gong, Xianyang Fang, Cheng Feng Qin, Bo Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Mosquito-borne flaviviruses consist of a positive-sense genome RNA flanked by the untranslated regions (UTRs). There is a panel of highly complex RNA structures in the UTRs with critical functions. For instance, Xrn1-resistant RNAs (xrRNAs) halt Xrn1 digestion, leading to the production of subgenomic flaviviral RNA (sfRNA). Conserved short direct repeats (DRs), also known as conserved sequences (CS) and repeated conserved sequences (RCS), have been identified as being among the RNA elements locating downstream of xrRNAs, but their biological function remains unknown. In this study, we revealed that the specific DRs are involved in the production of specific sfRNAs in both mammalian and mosquito cells. Biochemical assays and structural remodeling demonstrate that the base pairings in the stem of these DRs control sfRNA formation by maintaining the binding affinity of the corresponding xrRNAs to Xrn1. On the basis of these findings, we propose that DRs functions like a bracket holding the Xrn1-xrRNA complex for sfRNA formation.IMPORTANCE Flaviviruses include many important human pathogens. The production of subgenomic flaviviral RNAs (sfRNAs) is important for viral pathogenicity as a common feature of flaviviruses. sfRNAs are formed through the incomplete degradation of viral genomic RNA by the cytoplasmic 5'-3' exoribonuclease Xrn1 halted at the Xrn1-resistant RNA (xrRNA) structures within the 3'-UTR. The 3'-UTRs of the flavivirus genome also contain distinct short direct repeats (DRs), such as RCS3, CS3, RCS2, and CS2. However, the biological functions of these ancient primary DR sequences remain largely unknown. Here, we found that DR sequences are involved in sfRNA formation and viral virulence and provide novel targets for the rational design of live attenuated flavivirus vaccine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Feb 28 2020


  • Flavivirus
  • West Nile virus
  • direct repeats
  • sfRNA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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