Coronavirus subgenomic minus-strand RNAs and the potential for mRNA replicons

P. B. Sethna, S. L. Hung, D. A. Brian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

178 Scopus citations


The genome of the porcine transmissible gastroenteritis coronavirus is a plus-strand, polyadenylylated, infectious RNA molecule of ≃20 kilobases. During virus replication, seven subgenomic mRNAs are generated by what is thought to be a leader-priming mechanism to form a 3'-coterminal nested set. By using radiolabeled, strand-specific, synthetic oligodeoxynucleotide probes in RNA blot hybridization analyses, we have found a minus-strand counterpart for the genome and for each subgenomic mRNA species in the cytoplasm of infected cells. Subgenomic minus strands were found to be components of double-stranded replicative forms and in numbers that surpass full-length antigenome. We propose that subgenomic mRNA replication, in addition to leader-primed transcription, is a significant mechanism of mRNA synthesis and that it functions to amplify mRNAs. It is a mechanism of amplification that has not been described for any other group of RNA viruses. Subgenomic replicons may also function in a manner similar to genomes of defective interfering viruses to lead to the establishment of persistent infections, a universal property of coronaviruses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5626-5630
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number14
StatePublished - 1989


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