Ebola virus (EBOV) belongs to the group of nonsegmented negative-sense RNA viruses. The seven EBOV genes are separated by variable gene borders, including short (4- or 5-nucleotide) intergenic regions (IRs), a single long (144-nucleotide) IR, and gene overlaps, where the neighboring gene end and start signals share five conserved nucleotides. The unique structure of the gene overlaps and the presence of a single long IR are conserved among all filoviruses. Here, we sought to determine the impact of the EBOV gene borders during viral transcription. We show that readthrough mRNA synthesis occurs in EBOV-infected cells irrespective of the structure of the gene border, indicating that the gene overlaps do not promote recognition of the gene end signal. However, two consecutive gene end signals at the VP24 gene might improve termination at the VP24-L gene border, ensuring efficient L gene expression.Wefurther demonstrate that the long IR is not essential for but regulates transcription reinitiation in a length-dependent but sequence-independent manner. Mutational analysis of bicistronic minigenomes and recombinant EBOVs showed no direct correlation between IR length and reinitiation rates but demonstrated that specific IR lengths not found naturally in filoviruses profoundly inhibit downstream gene expression. Intriguingly, although truncation of the 144-nucleotide-long IR to 5 nucleotides did not substantially affect EBOV transcription, it led to a significant reduction of viral growth.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science