Alternate Conformations Regulate Ribosomal Recoding in a Positive-sense RNA Virus

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Positive-sense RNA viruses are important animal, plant, insect and bacteria pathogens and constitute the largest group of RNA viruses. Due to the relatively small size of their genomes, these viruses have evolved a variety of non-canonical translation mechanisms to optimize coding capacity expanding their proteome diversity. One such strategy is codon redefinition or recoding. First described in viruses, recoding is a programmed translation event in which codon alterations are context dependent. Recoding takes place in a subset of messenger RNA (mRNAs) with some products reflecting new, and some reflecting standard, meanings. The ratio between the two is both critical and highly regulated. While a variety of recoding mechanisms have been documented, (ribosome shunting, stop-carry on, termination-reinitiation, and translational bypassing), the two most extensively employed by RNA viruses are Programmed Ribosomal Frameshifting (PRF) and Programmed Ribosomal Readthrough (PRT). While both PRT and PRF subvert normal decoding for expression of C-terminal extension products, the former involves an alteration of reading frame, and the latter requires decoding of a non-sense codon. Both processes occur at a low but defined frequency, and both require Recoding Stimulatory Elements (RSE) for regulation and optimum functionality. These stimulatory signals can be embedded in the RNA in the form of sequence or secondary structure, or trans-acting factors outside the mRNA such as proteins or micro RNAs (miRNA). Despite 40+ years of study, the precise mechanisms by which viral RSE mediate ribosome recoding for the synthesis of their proteins, or how the ratio of these products is maintained, is poorly defined. This study reveals that in addition to a long distance RNA:RNA interaction, three alternate conformations and a phylogenetically conserved pseudoknot regulate PRT in the carmovirus Turnip crinkle virus (TCV).