J Virol


. 2023 May 18;e0063523.
doi: 10.1128/jvi.00635-23. Online ahead of print. The Highly Conserved Stem-Loop II Motif Is Dispensable for SARS-CoV-2

Hongbing Jiang 1 2 , Astha Joshi 3 , Tianyu Gan 2 , Andrew B Janowski 4 , Chika Fujii 2 , Traci L Bricker 3 , Tamarand L Darling 3 , Houda H Harastani 3 , Kuljeet Seehra 3 , Hongwei Chen 1 , Stephen Tahan 2 , Ana Jung 5 , Binita Febles 5 , Joshua A Blatter 2 , Scott A Handley 5 , Bijal A Parikh 5 , David Wang 2 5 , Adrianus C M Boon 2 3 5



AffiliationsAbstract

The stem-loop II motif (s2m) is an RNA structural element that is found in the 3' untranslated region (UTR) of many RNA viruses, including severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Though the motif was discovered over 25 years ago, its functional significance is unknown. In order to understand the importance of s2m, we created viruses with deletions or mutations of the s2m by reverse genetics and also evaluated a clinical isolate harboring a unique s2m deletion. Deletion or mutation of the s2m had no effect on growth in vitro or on growth and viral fitness in Syrian hamsters in vivo. We also compared the secondary structure of the 3' UTR of wild-type and s2m deletion viruses using selective 2'-hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension and mutational profiling (SHAPE-MaP) and dimethyl sulfate mutational profiling and sequencing (DMS-MaPseq). These experiments demonstrate that the s2m forms an independent structure and that its deletion does not alter the overall remaining 3'-UTR RNA structure. Together, these findings suggest that s2m is dispensable for SARS-CoV-2. IMPORTANCE RNA viruses, including severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), contain functional structures to support virus replication, translation, and evasion of the host antiviral immune response. The 3' untranslated region of early isolates of SARS-CoV-2 contained a stem-loop II motif (s2m), which is an RNA structural element that is found in many RNA viruses. This motif was discovered over 25 years ago, but its functional significance is unknown. We created SARS-CoV-2 with deletions or mutations of the s2m and determined the effect of these changes on viral growth in tissue culture and in rodent models of infection. Deletion or mutation of the s2m element had no effect on growth in vitro or on growth and viral fitness in Syrian hamsters in vivo. We also observed no impact of the deletion on other known RNA structures in the same region of the genome. These experiments demonstrate that s2m is dispensable for SARS-CoV-2.

Keywords: RNA structure; SARS-CoV-2; Syrian hamster; s2m element.

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