Protein yields in the baculovirus expression system do not always correlate with the presence of abundant amounts of corresponding mRNAs. Therefore, a novel aspect of the baculovirus expression system was studied: initiation of translation of very late mRNAs of Autographa californica multicapsid nucleopolyhedrovirus. The untranslated regions (UTRs) of the p10 mRNA of this baculovirus were studied by in vitro translation and after transfection into Spodoptera frugiperda insect cells. Lysates from insect cells were optimized for translation of in vitro transcripts containing p10 sequences. The lysates were used to measure the effects of various deletions in either the 5' or 3'UTR on protein synthesis. Transcripts containing the p10 5'UTR were translated efficiently. Large deletions in the 5'UTR severely decreased this efficiency. Deletions in the 3'UTR negatively affected expression of the reporter gene in vivo; however, no effect on translational efficiency in the insect-cell lysates was measured. The translational properties of the p10 transcripts were very similar in lysates made from either uninfected or baculovirus-infected insect cells. Determination of optimal salt conditions for either uncapped or capped transcripts showed that the p10 5'UTR was used very efficiently for translation initiation in vitro, even in the absence of a cap-structure at its 5' end. Addition of cap-analogue to the in vitro translation assays did not inhibit p10 5'UTR-driven translation, while translation of a cap-dependent mRNA was severely inhibited. These data suggest that the very late mRNAs of baculovirus are translated in a cap-independent manner.


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