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The RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) of the influenza A virus replicates and transcribes the viral genome segments in the nucleus of the host cell. To transcribe these viral genome segments, the RdRp 'snatches' capped RNA oligonucleotides from nascent host cell mRNAs and aligns these primers to the ultimate or penultimate nucleotide of the segments for the initiation of viral mRNA synthesis. It has been proposed that this initiation process is not processive and that the RdRp uses a prime-realign mechanism during transcription. Here we provide in vitro evidence for the existence of this transcriptional prime-realign mechanism, but show that it only functions efficiently for primers that are short or can not stably base pair with the template. In addition, we demonstrate that transcriptional elongation is dependent on the priming loop of the PB1 subunit of the RdRp. We propose that the prime-realign mechanism may be used to rescue abortive transcription initiation events or cope with sequence variation among primers. Overall, these observations advance our mechanistic understanding of how the influenza A virus initiates transcription correctly and efficiently.ImportanceThe influenza A virus causes severe disease in humans and is considered a major global health threat. The virus replicates and transcribes its genome using an enzyme called the RNA polymerase. To ensure that the genome is amplified faithfully and abundant viral mRNAs are made for viral protein synthesis, the viral RNA polymerase must transcribe the viral genome efficiently. In this report, we characterise a structure inside the polymerase that contributes to the efficiency of viral mRNA synthesis.

Original publication

DOI

10.1128/JVI.01775-17

Type

Journal article

Journal

J Virol

Publication Date

15/11/2017