Transcription in RNA viruses is highly dynamic, with a variety of pauses interrupting nucleotide addition by RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp). For example, rare but lengthy pauses (>20 s) have been linked to backtracking for viral single-subunit RdRps. However, while such backtracking has been well characterized for multi-subunit RNA polymerases (RNAPs) from bacteria and yeast, little is known about the details of viral RdRp backtracking and its biological roles. Using high-throughput magnetic tweezers, we quantify the backtracking by RdRp from the double-stranded (ds) RNA bacteriophage φ6, a model system for RdRps. We characterize the probability of entering long backtracks as a function of force and propose a model in which the bias toward backtracking is determined by the base paring at the dsRNA fork.We further discover that extensive backtracking provides access to a new 3′-end that allows for the de novo initiation of a second RdRp. This previously unidentified behavior provides a new mechanism for rapid RNA synthesis using coupled RdRps and hints at a possible regulatory pathway for gene expression during viral RNA transcription.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10421-10429
Number of pages9
JournalNucleic Acids Research
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 2015

ID: 8846571