Addition of m6A to SV40 late mRNAs enhances viral structural gene expression and replication

Kevin Tsai, David G. Courtney, Bryan R. Cullen

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Polyomaviruses are a family of small DNA tumor viruses that includes several pathogenic human members, including Merkel cell polyomavirus, BK virus and JC virus. As is characteristic of DNA tumor viruses, gene expression in polyomaviruses is temporally regulated into an early phase, consisting of the viral regulatory proteins, and a late phase, consisting of the viral structural proteins. Previously, the late transcripts expressed by the prototypic polyomavirus simian virus 40 (SV40) were reported to contain several adenosines bearing methyl groups at the N6 position (m6A), although the precise location of these m6A residues, and their phenotypic effects, have not been investigated. Here, we first demonstrate that overexpression of the key m6A reader protein YTHDF2 induces more rapid viral replication, and larger viral plaques, in SV40 infected BSC40 cells, while mutational inactivation of the endogenous YTHDF2 gene, or the m6A methyltransferase METTL3, has the opposite effect, thus suggesting a positive role for m6A in the regulation of SV40 gene expression. To directly test this hypothesis, we mapped sites of m6A addition on SV40 transcripts and identified two m6A sites on the viral early transcripts and eleven m6A sites on the late mRNAs. Using synonymous mutations, we inactivated the majority of the m6A sites on the SV40 late mRNAs and observed that the resultant viral mutant replicated more slowly than wild type SV40. Alternative splicing of SV40 late mRNAs was unaffected by the reduction in m6A residues and our data instead suggest that m6A enhances the translation of viral late transcripts. Together, these data argue that the addition of m6A residues to the late transcripts encoded by SV40 plays an important role in enhancing viral gene expression and, hence, replication.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1006919
Number of pages23
JournalPLoS Pathogens
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2018
Externally publishedYes


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