Bacterial fusion proteins containing portions of the Bunyamwera virus L protein were used as immunogens to prepare antisera in rabbits. Of five fusion proteins injected into rabbits, three yielded sera that reacted with the Bunyamwera virus L protein, detected by Western blotting or immunoprecipitation. Two of these antisera were specific for either the amino- or carboxy-terminal regions of the L protein. The specificity of these antisera was confirmed by their pattern of reactivity with full-length and truncated forms of the L protein. Plasmids containing the L gene cDNA under control of a bacteriophage T7 promoter were transfected into CV-1 cells which had previously been infected with a recombinant vaccinia virus, vTF7-3, that expresses T7 RNA polymerase. Antigenically authentic L protein was expressed. Using a nucleocapsid transfection assay developed previously, we showed that the transiently expressed L protein had RNA synthesis activity. Site-specific mutations were made in the L cDNA-containing plasmid to change certain amino acids in the putative polymerase domain of the L protein. The effects of these amino acid substitutions on the RNA synthesis activity of the L protein were monitored using the nucleocapsid transfection assay. These experiments showed that residues strictly conserved between the L proteins of different viruses in the family Bunyaviridae were obligatorily required for activity, whereas non-conserved residues could be substituted without abolishing RNA synthesis capability. Our results provide direct evidence for the functional significance of particular amino acids in the polymerase domain of a negative-strand virus RNA polymerase.


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