Computer-assisted analysis of the amino acid sequences of vaccinia virus proteins containing the purine NTP-binding pattern revealed the seven motifs typical of the DNA (RNA) helicase superfamily II in the proteins I8R and A18R. Together with the previously described putative helicases D6R and D11L, the number of putative helicases of this superfamily encoded by the genome of vaccinia virus now reaches four. Aside from the helicase motifs, the sequences of I8R and A18R showed no strong similarity to each other, nor to D6R and D11L. Statistically significant similarity was demonstrated between I8R and the putative RNA helicases involved in pre-mRNA splicing in yeast, PRP2, PRP16 and PRP22, whereas A18R appeared to be related to the putative helicases encoded by the human DNA repair gene ERCC3 and the D10 gene of bacteriophage T5. These findings suggest that I8R may be an RNA helicase. Based on the known properties of the virion NTPases of vaccinia virus, it is possible that the I8R protein may be identical to the previously characterized virion NTPase II. A18R is likely to possess DNA and/or RNA helicase activity. Circumstantial evidence suggests that this activity might be involved in melting duplex structures in late mRNAs. The possibility of independent acquisition of the putative helicases I8R, A18R and a common progenitor to D6R and D11L by an ancestral poxvirus is discussed.


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