Analysis of the highly diverse gene borders in Ebola virus reveals a distinct mechanism of transcriptional regulation.

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Ebola virus (EBOV) belongs to the group of nonsegmented negative-sense RNA viruses. The seven EBOV genes are separated by variable gene borders, including short (4- or 5-nucleotide) intergenic regions (IRs), a single long (144-nucleotide) IR, and gene overlaps, where the neighboring gene end and start signals share five conserved nucleotides. The unique structure of the gene overlaps and the presence of a single long IR are conserved among all filoviruses. Here, we sought to determine the impact of the EBOV gene borders during viral transcription. We show that readthrough mRNA synthesis occurs in EBOV-infected cells irrespective of the structure of the gene border, indicating that the gene overlaps do not promote recognition of the gene end signal. However, two consecutive gene end signals at the VP24 gene might improve termination at the VP24-L gene border, ensuring efficient L gene expression. We further demonstrate that the long IR is not essential for but regulates transcription reinitiation in a length-dependent but sequence-independent manner. Mutational analysis of bicistronic minigenomes and recombinant EBOVs showed no direct correlation between IR length and reinitiation rates but demonstrated that specific IR lengths not found naturally in filoviruses profoundly inhibit downstream gene expression. Intriguingly, although truncation of the 144-nucleotide-long IR to 5 nucleotides did not substantially affect EBOV transcription, it led to a significant reduction of viral growth. IMPORTANCE:Our current understanding of EBOV transcription regulation is limited due to the requirement for high-containment conditions to study this highly pathogenic virus. EBOV is thought to share many mechanistic features with well-analyzed prototype nonsegmented negative-sense RNA viruses. A single polymerase entry site at the 3' end of the genome determines that transcription of the genes is mainly controlled by gene order and cis-acting signals found at the gene borders. Here, we examined the regulatory role of the structurally unique EBOV gene borders during viral transcription. Our data suggest that transcriptional regulation in EBOV is highly complex and differs from that in prototype viruses and further the understanding of this most fundamental process in the filovirus replication cycle. Moreover, our results with recombinant EBOVs suggest a novel role of the long IR found in all filovirus genomes during the viral replication cycle.


  • Kristina Brauburger
  • Yannik Boehmann
  • Yoshimi Tsuda
  • Thomas Hoenen
  • Judith Olejnik
  • Michael Schümann
  • Hideki Ebihara
  • Elke Mühlberger
Externa organisationer
  • Boston University

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ) – OBLIGATORISK

  • Mikrobiologi
Sidor (från-till)12558-12571
TidskriftJournal of Virology
Utgåva nummer21
StatusPublished - 2014
Peer review utfördJa
Externt publiceradJa