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All genera of Flaviviridae host a conserved Xrn1-resistant RNA motif

After infection by flaviviruses like Zika and West Nile virus, eukaryotic hosts employ the well-conserved endoribonuclease Xrn1 to degrade the viral genomic RNA. Within the 3' untranslated regions, this enzyme encounters intricate Xrn1-resistant structures. This results in the accumulation of subgenomic flaviviral RNAs, an event that improves viral growth and aggravates viral pathogenicity. Xrn1-resistant RNAs have been established throughout the flaviviral genus, but not yet throughout the entire Flaviviridae family. In this work, we use previously determined characteristics of these structures to identify homologous sequences in many members of the genera pegivirus, hepacivirus and pestivirus. We used structural alignment and mutational analyses to establish that these sequences indeed represent Xrn1-resistant RNA and that they employ the general features of the flaviviral xrRNAs, consisting of a double pseudoknot formed by five base-paired regions stitched together by a crucial triple base interaction. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the pestivirus Bungowannah virus produces subgenomic RNA in vivo. Altogether, these results indicate that viruses make use of a universal Xrn1-resistant RNA throughout the Flaviviridae family.



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