Tomato ringspot nepovirus (TomRSV) RNA-1 encodes a putative NTP-binding protein (NTB), a putative viral genome-linked protein (VPg), a putative RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (Pol) and a serine-like protease (Pro), which have been suggested to be involved in viral RNA replication. Proteolytic processing of protease precursors containing these proteins was studied in Escherichia coli and in vitro. The TomRSV protease could cleave the precursor proteins and release the predicted mature proteins or intermediate precursors. Although processing was detected at all three predicted cleavage sites (NTB-VPg, VPg-Pro and Pro-Pol), processing at the VPg-Pro cleavage site was inefficient, resulting in accumulation of the VPg-Pro intermediate precursor in E. coli and in vitro. In addition, the presence of the VPg sequence in the precursor resulted in increased cleavage at the Pro-Pol cleavage site in E. coli and in vitro. Direct N-terminal sequencing of the genomic RNA-linked VPg, of the mature protease purified from E. coli extracts and of radiolabelled mature polymerase purified from in vitro translation products revealed the sequences of the NTB-VPg, VPg-Pro and Pro-Pol dipeptide cleavage sites to be Q/S, Q/G and Q/S, respectively. In vitro processing at the NTB-VPg and Pro-Pol cleavage sites was not detected upon mutation or deletion of the conserved glutamine at the -1 position of the cleavage site. These results are discussed in light of the cleavage site specificity of the TomRSV protease.


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