Nonsegmented negative strand (NNS) RNA viruses include many life-threatening human pathogens, such as rabies, measles, and Ebola. However, there is presently no effective drug against NNS RNA viruses. NNS RNA viruses possess conserved RNA-dependent RNA polymerase L proteins that may catalyze all enzymatic activities required for the synthesis of 5'-capped and 3'-polyadenylated mRNAs. Despite the fact that L proteins play multiple essential roles in viral life cycles, the precise functions of these L proteins in mRNA biogenesis as well as their domain structures remain elusive. Our long-term goals are to define the structure and function of L proteins and to develop anti-NNS RNA viral agents against them. To analyze the roles of L proteins in mRNA biogenesis, we have established in vitro mRNA synthesis and capping assay systems with the recombinant L protein of vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), a prototypic model NNS RNA virus. By using our in vitro systems, we have discovered that the mechanism of mRNA capping mediated by the VSV L protein is fundamentally different from that of eukaryotic host cells. Since the cap structure is required for mRNA translation and stability in eukaryotic host cells, selective killing of NNS RNA viruses could be achieved by targeting their unique capping activities. Importantly, we have found that a conserved active site motif required for the capping activity of the VSV L protein is essential for efficient production of full-length VSV mRNAs in vitro as well as VSV growth in cultured cells. These findings lead us to hypothesize that NNS RNA viral L proteins are modular mRNA-synthesizing proteins having novel mRNA capping domains as potential drug targets. The hypothesis will be rigorously tested by the following Specific Aims: (1) to define the roles of the NNS RNA viral L proteins in mRNA capping and (2) to find small molecule inhibitors against rhabdoviral mRNA capping.
In Aim 1, we will identify active sites and domains for mRNA capping in the VSV L protein, elucidate the mechanism of co-transcriptional capping of VSV mRNAs, and study the mechanisms of mRNA capping by other NNS RNA viral L proteins.
In Aim 2, we will search for guanosine analogs that inhibit the formation of the functional cap structure by the VSV L protein, and establish high-throughput screening systems to screen small molecule libraries for non-nucleoside capping inhibitors. We will use biochemical, proteomic, and molecular virological approaches to achieve these Aims. Collectively, our proposed studies will expand the frontier of our fundamental knowledge about the unique mechanisms of mRNA biogenesis in NNS RNA viruses. We expect that detailed characterization of NNS RNA viral L proteins will provide new insight into their evolutionary origin and molecular diversification. Furthermore, information derived from our research has the potential to guide future development of new anti-NNS RNA viral agents that specifically inhibit cap-forming activities of these L proteins.

Public Health Relevance

Despite threats to human health from many nonsegmented negative strand (NNS) RNA viruses, such as rabies, measles, and Ebola, there is no effective anti-NNS RNA viral agent. Our major research endeavor is to elucidate the unique mechanisms of mRNA synthesis and capping mediated by modular RNA polymerase L proteins of NNS RNA viruses. Our proposed studies will significantly increase our knowledge of NNS RNA virus biology and provide information necessary to develop specific anti-viral agents to counteract these L proteins.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Research Project (R01)
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Virology - A Study Section (VIRA)
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Cassetti, Cristina
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Case Western Reserve University
Schools of Medicine
United States
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