The coronavirus nucleocapsid (N) protein is a multifunctional viral gene product that encapsidates the RNA genome and also plays some as yet not fully defined role in viral RNA replication and/or transcription. A number of conserved negatively charged amino acids are located within domain III in the carboxy end of all coronavirus N proteins. Previous studies suggested that the negatively charged residues are involved in virus assembly by mediating interaction between the membrane (M) protein carboxy tail and nucleocapsids. To determine the importance of these negatively charged residues, a series of alanine and other charged-residue substitutions were introduced in place of those in the N gene within a mouse hepatitis coronavirus A59 infections clone. Aspartic acid residues 440 and 441 were identified as functionally important. Viruses could not be isolated when both residues were replaced by positively charged amino acids. When either amino acid was replaced by a positively charged residue or both were changed to alanine, viruses were recovered that contained second-site changes within N, but not in the M or envelope protein. The compensatory role of the new changes was confirmed by the construction of new viruses. A few viruses were recovered that retained the D441-to- arginine change and no compensatory changes. These viruses exhibited a small-plaque phenotype and produced significantly less virus. Overall, results from our analysis of a large panel of plaque-purified recovered viruses indicate that the negatively charged residues at positions 440 and 441 are key residues that appear to be involved in virus assembly.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science