A purification method for Semliki Forest virus-specified RNA-dependent RNA polymerase from BHK cells is described. The procedure entails (i) the preparation of a crude cell lysate by Dounce homogenization of cells 3.5 h post-infection, (ii) differential centrifugation to give a 15000 g ‘mitochondrial’ pellet, (iii) equilibrium centrifugation on discontinuous sucrose gradients (Friedman 1972) to give a membranous band of density 1.16 g/ml, (iv) solubilization with Triton N-101 and velocity centrifugation to give a 25S solubilized polymerase complex and (v) affinity chromatography through an oligo (dT)-cellulose matrix bearing immobilized 42S virus particle RNA. The overall purification was approx. 360-fold with a 5% recovery of activity.

Of the various intermediate fractions in the purification procedure, only the relatively crude post-nuclear supernatant fraction was competent to synthesize the major single-stranded RNAs found in infected cells. Other fractions incorporated precursor only into replicative intermediate (RI) or replicative form (RF). Analysis of the product RF showed that it was of the same size and could bind to the same extent to oligo (dT)-cellulose as the RF isolated directly from lysates of infected cells. Displacement hybridization and ribonuclease digestion suggested that the purified polymerase could only complete previously initiated progeny positive strands using negative strands as template and, even in its most highly purified form, was still tightly bound to its template.

Analysis on polyacrylamide slab gels revealed the presence of three S-labelled polypeptides in the purified polymerase preparation, but a polypeptide which had identical electrophoretic mobility to the lowest mol. wt. polypeptide of the purified polymerase was also present in material from mock-infected cells which had been taken through the purification procedure. From these results we conclude that only two virus-specified polypeptides are present in the polymerase. A scheme for the synthesis of these polypeptides is presented in the accompanying paper.


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