Akabane virus (AKAV) causes epizootic congenital deformities in cattle, sheep, and goats. Due to the lack of a complete genome sequence, the molecular biological properties of this virus are not known. We have cloned and sequenced the functional large (L) RNA segment of AKAV, and shown that it has polymerase activity using a minireplicon system with RNA polymerase I. The complete L RNA segment is 6868 nucleotides long and encodes an L protein of 2251 amino acids, which functions as an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. A minireplicon reporter plasmid was constructed by flanking either the firefly luciferase or the green fluorescent protein gene in the antisense orientation with the 5′- and 3′-terminal noncoding regions of the small RNA segment. HmLu-1 cells were transfected with the reporter plasmid, and the L protein and nucleoprotein (N protein) expression plasmids. The reporter activity was upregulated in a dose-dependent manner with increasing concentration of either the L or N protein expression plasmid. Furthermore, the reporter activity could be downregulated by the AKAV NSs protein as well as by other orthobunyaviruses. These results show that the AKAV minireplicon system is a powerful tool for studying transcription and for rescuing infectious viruses from cloned cDNAs.
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