RNA binding characteristics and overall topology of the vaccinia virus polyadenylation complex

Lela Ann Johnson, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


mRNA 3′ polyadenylation is central to mRNA biogenesis in prokaryotes and eukaryotes, and is implicated in numerous aspects of mRNA metabolism, including efficiency of mRNA export from the nucleus, message stability, and initiation of translation. However, due to the great complexity of the eukaryotic polyadenylation apparatus, the mechanisms of RNA 3 ′ end processing have remained elusive. Although the RNA processing reactions leading to polyadenylated messenger RNA have been studied in many systems, and much progress has been made, a complete understanding of the biochemistry of the poly(A) polymerase enzyme is still lacking. My research uses Vaccinia virus as a model system to gain a better understanding of this complicated polyadenylation process, which consist of RNA binding, catalysis and polymerase translocation. Vaccinia virus replicates in the cytoplasm of its host cell, so it must employ its own poly(A) polymerase (PAP), a heterodimer of two virus encoded proteins, VP55 and VP39. VP55 is the catalytic subunit, adding 30 adenylates to a non-polyadenylated RNA in a rapid processive manner before abruptly changing to a slow, non-processive mode of adenylate addition and dissociating from the RNA. VP39 is the stimulatory subunit. It has no polyadenylation catalytic activity by itself, but when associated with VP55 it facilitates the semi-processive synthesis of tails several hundred adenylates in length. Oligonucleotide selection and competition studies have shown that the heterodimer binds a minimal motif of (rU)2 (N)25 U, the “heterodimer binding motif”, within an oligonucleotide, and its primer selection for polyadenylation is base-type specific. Crosslinking studies using photosensitive uridylate analogs show that within a VP55-VP39-primer ternary complex, VP55 comes into contact with all three required uridylates, while VP39 only contacts the downstream uridylate. Further studies, using a backbone-anchored photosensitive crosslinker show that both PAP subunits are in close proximity to the downstream −10 to −21 region of 50mer model primers containing the heterodimer binding motif. This equal crosslinking to both subunits suggests that the dimerization of VP55 and VP39 creates either a cleft or a channel between the two subunits through which this region of RNA passes. Peptide mapping studies of VP39 covalently crosslinked to the oligonucleotide have identified residue R107 as the amino acid in close proximity to the −10 uridylate. This helps us project a conceptual model onto the known physical surface of this subunit. In the absence of any tertiary structural data for VP55, we have used a series of oligonucleotide selection assays, as well as crosslinking, nucleotide transfer assays, and gel shift assays to gain insight into the requirements for binding, polyadenylation and translocation. Collectively, these data allow us to put together a comprehensive model of the structure and function of the polyadenylation ternary complex consisting of VP39, VP55 and RNA.

Subject Area

Molecular biology|Microbiology|Biochemistry

Recommended Citation

Johnson, Lela Ann, "RNA binding characteristics and overall topology of the vaccinia virus polyadenylation complex" (2002). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3046057.