Many flaviviruses are globally important human pathogens. Their plus-strand RNA genome contains a 5′-cap structure that is methylated at the guanine N-7 and the ribose 2′-OH positions of the first transcribed nucleotide, adenine (m7GpppAm). Using West Nile virus (WNY), we demonstrate, for the first time, that the nonstructural protein 5 (NS5) mediates both guanine N-7 and ribose 2′-O methylations and therefore is essential for flavivirus 5′-cap formation. We show that a recombinant full-length and a truncated NS5 protein containing the methyltransferase (MTase) domain methylates GpppA-capped and m7GpppA-capped RNAs to m7GpppAm-RNA, using S-adenosylmethionine as a methyl donor. Furthermore, methylation of GpppA-capped RNA sequentially yielded m7GpppA- and m 7GpppAm-RNA products, indicating that guanine N-7 precedes ribose 2′-O methylation. Mutagenesis of a K61-D146-K 182-E218 tetrad conserved in other cellular and viral MTases suggests that NS5 requires distinct amino acids for its N-7 and 2′-O MTase activities. The entire K61-D146-K 182-E218 motif is essential for 2′-O MTase activity, whereas N-7 MTase activity requires only D146. The other three amino acids facilitate, but are not essential for, guanine N-7 methylation. Amino acid substitutions within the K61-D146-K 182-E218 motif in a WNV luciferase-reporting replicon significantly reduced or abolished viral replication in cells. Additionally, the mutant MTase-mediated replication defect could not be trans complemented by a wild-type replicase complex. These findings demonstrate a critical role for the flavivirus MTase in viral reproduction and underscore this domain as a potential target for antiviral therapy.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science