The processing and stability of the non-structural (ns) proteins of Semliki Forest virus were studied . Virus-specific proteins from infected cells were identified by immunoprecipitation with monospecific antisera. The complete ns precursor, P1234, translated within 7 to 9 min of the start of translation, was processed before the completion of translation into P123 and nsP4. Pulse-chase experiments showed that the mature ns proteins were relatively stable for at least 2 h. Interestingly, the decrease in the amount of the P34 precursor during chase is accompanied by an increase only in the amount of nsP3, which could explain the observed lower amount of nsP4 in infected cells. In cells infected with SFV RNA mutants 4 and 6 maintained at the restrictive temperature, nsP4 but no nsP1, nsP2 or nsP3 accumulated in addition to the ns precursor proteins P1234, P123, P12 and P34. Translation of mRNAs from a cDNA clone, encoding P1234 with a deletion in the carboxy-terminal proteinase domain of nsP2, did not yield nsP1, nsP2 or nsP3 but only nsP4, indicating that cleavage at the nsP3/4 sites is independent. Evidently, nsP4 is produced by a nascent cleavage of the growing P1234, catalysed by its own proteinase activity; the proteolytic cleavages at the nsP1/2 and nsP2/3 sites are catalysed by the proteinase moiety of nsP2.


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