The large (L) protein of rabies virus (RABV) plays multiple enzymatic roles in viral RNA synthesis and processing. However, none of its putative enzymatic activities have been directly demonstrated in vitro
. In this study, we expressed and purified a recombinant form of the RABV L protein and verified its guanosine 5′-triphosphatase and GDP polyribonucleotidyltransferase (PRNTase) activities, which are essential for viral mRNA cap formation by the unconventional mechanism. The RABV L protein capped 5′-triphosphorylated but not 5′-diphosphorylated RABV mRNA-start sequences, 5′-AACA(C/U), with GDP to generate the 5′-terminal cap structure G(5′)ppp(5′)A. The 5′-AAC sequence in the substrate RNAs was found to be strictly essential for RNA capping with the RABV L protein. Furthermore, site-directed mutagenesis showed that some conserved amino acid residues (G1112, T1170, W1201, H1241, R1242, F1285, and Q1286) in the PRNTase motifs A to E of the RABV L protein are required for cap formation. These findings suggest that the putative PRNTase domain in the RABV L protein catalyzes the rhabdovirus-specific capping reaction involving covalent catalysis of the pRNA transfer to GDP, thus offering this domain as a target for developing anti-viral agents.
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