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Increased viral pathogenicity after insertion of a 28S ribosomal RNA sequence into the haemagglutinin gene of an influenza virus


THE haemagglutinin glycoprotein HA of influenza viruses is responsible for the attachment of the virus to neuraminic acid-containing receptors at the cell surface and subsequent penetration by triggering fusion of the viral envelope with cellular membranes. To express full activity of the newly synthesized precursor, HA has to be modified by post-translational proteolytic cleavage into the polypeptides HA1 and HA2 by cellular enzymes. If proteases suitable for cleavage are not present in the host cell, the resulting virus particles are non-infectious1,2. During adaptation of the apathogenic influenza virus A/turkey/Oregon/71 to chicken embryo cells, which are not permissive for HA cleavage3, we obtained an infectious virus variant with increased pathogenicity. Sequence analysis revealed that during adaptation 54 nucleotides were inserted into the HA gene; their sequence corresponds to a region of the 28S ribosomal RNA. This insertion is probably responsible for increased cleavability of HA, as well as for infec-tivity and pathogenicity of the adapted virus.

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Khatchikian, D., Orlich, M. & Rott, R. Increased viral pathogenicity after insertion of a 28S ribosomal RNA sequence into the haemagglutinin gene of an influenza virus. Nature 340, 156–157 (1989).

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