Computer-assisted comparisons of the large proteins involved in the replication of viral RNA have revealed a novel domain located near the N termini of these proteins and conserved throughout the so-called ‘Sindbis-like’ supergroup of positive-strand RNA viruses. This domain encompasses four distinct conserved motifs, with motifs I, II and IV containing an invariant His residue, the AspXXArg signature and an invariant Tyr residue, respectively. Each of the two large groups of viruses within this supergroup, the ‘altovirus’ group (alphaviruses, tobamoviruses, tobraviruses, hordeiviruses, tricornaviruses, furoviruses, hepatitis E virus and probably rubiviruses), and the ‘typovirus’ group (tymoviruses, potexviruses, carlaviruses and apple chlorotic leaf spot virus), can be characterized by additional conserved sequence motifs. Based on the available results of biochemical studies and site-directed mutagenesis of the alphavirus proteins, it is hypothesized that this domain may be involved in methylation of the cap during viral RNA maturation. Unlike the other conserved domains, the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase and the RNA helicase, the motifs typical of the putative methyltransferase domain are universal within the Sindbis-like supergroup but are not found in the proteins of any other viruses, constituting a distinctive hallmark of this supergroup.


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