The genomic RNA of potyviruses has a characteristic 5′ non-translated region (5′NTR) to which a viral protein, VPg, is covalently attached. This suggests that the viral RNA lacks a conventional cap structure and thus its translation may not proceed in the same way as most cellular mRNAs. To investigate the role of the 5′NTR during translation, various derivatives of the turnip mosaic potyvirus (TuMV) leader were fused to the reporter gene β-glucuronidase (GUS). These constructs were used to monitor the efficiency of translation in a rabbit reticulocyte lysate and following microprojectile DNA delivery into tobacco cell suspensions. GUS transcripts fused with the TuMV 5′NTR, whether they were capped or not, were efficiently translated, whereas GUS transcripts without the viral leader needed to be capped for expression. When transcripts of the viral leader were supplied in excess over functional transcripts, translation was inhibited in a dose-dependent manner. Similarly, transcripts synthesized from the reverse complement of the 5′NTR inhibited translation to the same extent as the wild-type sequence, indicating that cap independence was not conferred by a specific sequence within the viral leader. A stable hairpin loop was placed in front or after the viral sequence. This hairpin loop normally prevented translation of control GUS transcripts but when the viral leader was positioned after it a significant level of GUS activity was measured, whether the transcripts were capped or not. On the other hand, when the hairpin loop was positioned after the viral leader, no GUS activity was measured. These results suggested that ribosomes bound to an internal site within the TuMV 5′NTR and then presumably scanned the sequence for the initiator AUG.


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