The cRNA promoter of Thogoto virus, a tick-borne orthomyxovirus, was investigated using an in vitro polymerase assay based on purified viral cores and synthetic oligoribonucleotides corresponding to the 3' and 5' ends of cRNA. In vitro polymerase activity relied on an interaction between the 3' and 5' ends of cRNA and was ApG primer-dependent. Mutational analysis of the promoter showed that interstrand base-pairing of residues 11 and 12 of the 3' promoter arm with residues 10 and 11 of the 5' promoter arm, respectively, was essential for polymerase activity. These data provide the first clear evidence for a cRNA panhandle in an orthomyxovirus. No evidence was obtained for the presence of a 5' or 3' hook structure in the cRNA promoter, and transcription could not be primed with rabbit globin mRNA or synthetic cap analogues. This demonstrates that cap snatching activity relies on the presence of the vRNA terminal sequences.


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