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Persistence of ambigrammatic narnaviruses requires translation of the reverse open reading frame


Retallack, Hanna et al. (2021), Persistence of ambigrammatic narnaviruses requires translation of the reverse open reading frame, Dryad, Dataset,


Narnaviruses are RNA viruses detected in diverse fungi, plants, protists, arthropods and nematodes. Though initially described as simple single-gene non-segmented viruses encoding RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp), a subset of narnaviruses referred to as “ambigrammatic” harbor a unique genomic configuration consisting of overlapping open reading frames (ORFs) encoded on opposite strands. Phylogenetic analysis supports selection to maintain this unusual genome organization, but functional investigations are lacking. Here, we establish the mosquito-infecting Culex narnavirus 1 (CxNV1) as a model to investigate the functional role of overlapping ORFs in narnavirus replication. In CxNV1, a reverse ORF without homology to known proteins covers nearly the entire 3.2 kb segment encoding the RdRp. Additionally, two opposing and nearly completely overlapping novel ORFs are found on the second putative CxNV1 segment, the 0.8 kb “Robin” RNA. We developed a system to launch CxNV1 in a naïve mosquito cell line, then showed that functional RdRp is required for persistence of both segments, and an intact reverse ORF is required on the RdRp segment for persistence. Mass spectrometry of persistently CxNV1-infected cells provided evidence for translation of this reverse ORF. Finally, ribosome profiling yielded a striking pattern of footprints for all four CxNV1 RNA strands that was distinct from actively-translating ribosomes on host mRNA or co-infecting RNA viruses. Taken together, these data raise the possibility that the process of translation itself is important for persistence of ambigrammatic narnaviruses, potentially by protecting viral RNA with ribosomes, thus suggesting a heretofore undescribed viral tactic for replication and transmission.