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Open Access Research

Molecular investigation of the 7.2 kb RNA of murine cytomegalovirus

Toni M Schwarz, Lysa-Anne M Volpe, Christopher G Abraham and Caroline A Kulesza*

Author Affiliations

Department of Microbiology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, MS8333, 12800 E. 19th Ave, Aurora, Colorado 80045, USA

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Virology Journal 2013, 10:348  doi:10.1186/1743-422X-10-348

Published: 2 December 2013

Abstract

Background

HCMV encodes a stable 5 kb RNA of unknown function that is conserved across cytomegalovirus species. In vivo studies of the MCMV orthologue, a 7.2 kb RNA, demonstrated that viruses that do not express the RNA fail to establish efficient persistent replication in the salivary glands of mice. To gain further insight into the function and properties of this conserved locus, we characterized the MCMV intron in finer detail.

Methods

We performed multiple analyses to evaluate transcript expression kinetics, identify transcript termini and promoter elements. The half-lives of intron locus RNAs were quantified by measuring RNA levels following actinomycin D treatment in a qRT-PCR-based assay. We also constructed a series of recombinant viruses to evaluate protein coding potential in the locus and test the role of putative promoter elements. These recombinant viruses were tested in both in vitro and in vivo assays.

Results

We show that the 7.2 kb RNA is expressed with late kinetics during productive infection of mouse fibroblasts. The termini of the precursor RNA that is processed to produce the intron were identified and we demonstrate that the m106 open reading frame, which resides on the spliced mRNA derived from precursor processing, can be translated during infection. Mapping the 5′ end of the primary transcript revealed minimal promoter elements located upstream that contribute to transcript expression. Analysis of recombinant viruses with deletions in the putative promoter elements, however, revealed these elements exert only minor effects on intron expression and viral persistence in vivo. Low transcriptional output by the putative promoter element(s) is compensated by the long half-life of the 7.2 kb RNA of approximately 28.8 hours. Detailed analysis of viral spread prior to the establishment of persistence also showed that the intron is not likely required for efficient spread to the salivary gland, but rather enhances persistent replication in this tissue site.

Conclusions

This data provides a comprehensive transcriptional analysis of the MCMV 7.2 kb intron locus. Our studies indicate that the 7.2 kb RNA is an extremely long-lived RNA, a feature which is likely to be important in its role promoting viral persistence in the salivary gland.

Keywords:
Cytomegalovirus; Non-coding RNA; Persistence