Donaldson EF, Graham RL, Sims AC, Denison MR, Baric RS. Analysis of murine hepatitis virus strain A59 temperature-sensitive mutant TS-LA6 suggests that nsp10 plays a critical role in polyprotein processing. Journal of virology. 2007 Jul;81(81). 7086-98. PMID: 17428870 [PubMed] PMCID: PMC1933295
Coronaviruses are the largest RNA viruses, and their genomes encode replication machinery capable of efficient replication of both positive- and negative-strand viral RNAs as well as enzymes capable of processing large viral polyproteins into putative replication intermediates and mature proteins. A model described recently by Sawicki et al. (S. G. Sawicki, D. L. Sawicki, D. Younker, Y. Meyer, V. Thiel, H. Stokes, and S. G. Siddell, PLoS Pathog. 1:e39, 2005), based upon complementation studies of known temperature-sensitive (TS) mutants of murine hepatitis virus (MHV) strain A59, proposes that an intermediate comprised of nsp4 to nsp10/11 ( approximately 150 kDa) is involved in negative-strand synthesis. Furthermore, the mature forms of nsp4 to nsp10 are thought to serve as cofactors with other replicase proteins to assemble a larger replication complex specifically formed to transcribe positive-strand RNAs. In this study, we introduced a single-amino-acid change (nsp10:Q65E) associated with the TS-LA6 phenotype into nsp10 of the infectious clone of MHV. Growth kinetic studies demonstrated that this mutation was sufficient to generate the TS phenotype at permissive and nonpermissive temperatures. Our results demonstrate that the TS mutant variant of nsp10 inhibits the main protease, 3CLpro, blocking its function completely at the nonpermissive temperature. These results implicate nsp10 as being a critical factor in the activation of 3CLpro function. We discuss how these findings challenge the current hypothesis that nsp4 to nsp10/11 functions as a single cistron in negative-strand RNA synthesis and analyze recent complementation data in light of these new findings.