Expression of RNA virus proteins by RNA polymerase II dependent expression plasmids is hindered at multiple steps.
Ternette N., Stefanou D., Kuate S., Uberla K., Grunwald T.
BACKGROUND: Proteins of human and animal viruses are frequently expressed from RNA polymerase II dependent expression cassettes to study protein function and to develop gene-based vaccines. Initial attempts to express the G protein of vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) and the F protein of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) by eukaryotic promoters revealed restrictions at several steps of gene expression. RESULTS: Insertion of an intron flanked by exonic sequences 5'-terminal to the open reading frames (ORF) of VSV-G and RSV-F led to detectable cytoplasmic mRNA levels of both genes. While the exonic sequences were sufficient to stabilise the VSV-G mRNA, cytoplasmic mRNA levels of RSV-F were dependent on the presence of a functional intron. Cytoplasmic VSV-G mRNA levels led to readily detectable levels of VSV-G protein, whereas RSV-F protein expression remained undetectable. However, RSV-F expression was observed after mutating two of four consensus sites for polyadenylation present in the RSV-F ORF. Expression levels could be further enhanced by codon optimisation. CONCLUSION: Insufficient cytoplasmic mRNA levels and premature polyadenylation prevent expression of RSV-F by RNA polymerase II dependent expression plasmids. Since RSV replicates in the cytoplasm, the presence of premature polyadenylation sites and elements leading to nuclear instability should not interfere with RSV-F expression during virus replication. The molecular mechanisms responsible for the destabilisation of the RSV-F and VSV-G mRNAs and the different requirements for their rescue by insertion of an intron remain to be defined.