A subset of guanine-rich nucleic acid sequences has the potential to fold into G-quadruplex (G4) secondary structures, which are functionally important for several biological processes, including genome stability and regulation of gene expression. Putative quadruplex sequences (PQSs) G3+
are widely found in eukaryotic and prokaryotic genomes, but the base composition of the N1-7
loops is biased across species. Since the viruses partially hijack their hosts’ cellular machinery for proliferation, we examined the PQS motif size, loop length, and nucleotide compositions of 7370 viral genome assemblies and compared viral and host PQS motifs. We studied seven viral taxa infecting five distant eukaryotic hosts and created a resource providing a comprehensive view of the viral quadruplex motifs. Overall, short-looped PQSs are predominant and with a similar composition across viral taxonomic groups, albeit subtle trends emerge upon classification by hosts. Specifically, there is a higher frequency of pyrimidine loops in viruses infecting animals irrespective of the viruses’ genome type. This observation is confirmed by an in-depth analysis of the Herpesviridae family of viruses, which showed a distinctive accumulation of thermally stable C-looped quadruplexes in viruses infecting high-order vertebrates. The occurrence of viral C-looped G4s, which carry binding sites for host transcription factors, as well as the high prevalence of viral TTA-looped G4s, which are identical to vertebrate telomeric motifs, provide concrete examples of how PQSs may help viruses impinge upon, and benefit from, host functions. More generally, these observations suggest a co-evolution of virus and host PQSs, thus underscoring the potential functional significance of G4s.
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