In brome mosaic virus, both the replication of the genomic (+)-RNA strands and the transcription of the subgenomic RNA are carried out by the viral replicase. The production of (−)-RNA strands is dependent on the formation of an AUA triloop in the stem–loop C (SLC) hairpin in the 3′-untranslated region of the (+)-RNA strands. Two alternate hypotheses have been put forward for the mechanism of subgenomic RNA transcription. One posits that transcription commences by recognition of at least four key nucleotides in the subgenomic promoter by the replicase. The other posits that subgenomic transcription starts by binding of the replicase to a hairpin formed by the subgenomic promoter that resembles the minus strand promoter hairpin SLC. In this study, we have determined the three-dimensional structure of the subgenomic promoter hairpin using NMR spectroscopy. The data show that the hairpin is stable at 30°C and that it forms a pseudo-triloop structure with a transloop base pair and a nucleotide completely excluded from the helix. The transloop base pair is capped by an AUA triloop that possesses an extremely well packed structure very similar to that of the AUA triloop of SLC, including the formation of a so-called clamped-adenine motif. The similarities of the NMR structures of the hairpins required for genomic RNA and subgenomic RNA synthesis show that the replicase recognizes structure rather than sequence-specific motifs in both promoters.
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