, Volume 149, Issue 10, pp 1971-1983
Date: 25 May 2004

An mRNA region of the canine distemper virus fusion protein gene lacking AUG codons can promote protein expression

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Canine distemper virus (CDV) produces a glycosylated type I fusion protein (F) with an internal hydrophobic signal sequence beginning around 115 residues downstream of the first AUG used for translation initiation. Cleavage of the signal sequence yields the F0 molecule, which is cleaved into the F1 and F2 subunits. Surprisingly, when all in-frame AUGs located in the first third of the F gene were mutated a protein of the same molecular size as the F0 molecule was still expressed from both the Onderstepoort (OP) and A75/17-CDV F genes. We designated this protein, which is initiated from a non-AUG codon protein Fx. Site-directed mutagenesis allowed to identify codon 85, a GCC codon coding for alanine, as the most likely position from which translation initiation of Fx occurs in OP-CDV. Deletion analysis demonstrated that at least 60 nucleotides upstream of the GCC codon are required for efficient Fx translation. This sequence is GC-rich, suggesting extensive folding. Secondary structure may therefore be important for translation initiation at codon 85.