Poxviruses encode enzymes and factors needed for transcription and replication of their genomes within the cytoplasm of infected cells. Vaccinia virus, the prototypic member of the poxvirus family, provides a unique system for combining biochemical and genetic approaches for investigating mechanisms of gene regulation and mRNA biosynthesis. Studies with vaccinia virus indicated that the genes are divided into three temporal classes - early, intermediate and late. Each gene class has a consensus DNA promoter sequence and corresponding transcription factors that interact with the virus-encoded multisubunit RNA polymerase. The transcription system for early genes is packaged within the infectious virus particle during its assembly, whereas the factors for intermediate and late gene transcription are synthesized successively after infection and localize within cytoplasmic factory areas. Poxviruses also encode enzymes that modify their mRNA by adding a cap structure to the 5'end and a poly(A) tail to the 3'end, which are necessary for efficient translation and stability. The shut down of cellular protein synthesis and the tight regulation of viral protein synthesis are regulated by poxvirus enzymes that cleave the cap structure.

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