Identification of amino acid residues of influenza virus nucleoprotein essential for RNA binding

Debra Elton, Liz Medcalf, Konrad Bishop, Deborah Harrison, Paul Digard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The influenza virus nucleoprotein (NP) is a single-strand-RNA-binding protein associated with genome and antigenome RNA and is one of the four virus proteins necessary for transcription and replication of viral RNA. To better characterize the mechanism by which NP binds RNA, we undertook a physical and mutational analysis of the polypeptide, with the strategy of identifying first the regions in direct contact with RNA, then the classes of amino acids involved, and finally the crucial residues by mutagenesis. Chemical fragmentation and amino acid sequencing of NP that had been UV cross linked to radiolabelled RNA showed that protein-RNA contacts occur throughout the length of the polypeptide. Chemical modification experiments implicated arginine but not lysine residues as important for RNA binding, while RNA-dependent changes in the intrinsic fluorescence spectrum of NP suggested the involvement of tryptophan residues. Supporting these observations, single-codon mutagenesis identified five tryptophan, one phenylalanine, and two arginine residues as essential for high-affinity RNA binding at physiological temperature. In addition, mutants unable to bind RNA in vitro were unable to support virus gene expression in vivo. The mutationally sensitive residues are not localized to any particular region of NP but instead are distributed throughout the protein. Overall, these data are inconsistent with previous models suggesting that the NP-RNA interaction is mediated by a discrete N-terminal domain. Instead, we propose that high-affinity binding of RNA by NP requires the concerted interaction of multiple regions of the protein with RNA and that the individual protein-RNA contacts are mediated by a combination of electrostatic interactions between positively charged residues and the phosphate backbone and planar interactions between aromatic side chains and bases.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7357-67
JournalJournal of Virology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1999


  • Amino Acids
  • Binding Sites
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Viral
  • Humans
  • Influenza A virus/genetics
  • Influenza A virus/metabolism
  • Nucleoproteins/genetics
  • Nucleoproteins/metabolism
  • Peptides/chemical synthesis
  • Peptides/metabolism
  • RNA Replicase/metabolism
  • RNA, Viral/metabolism
  • RNA-Binding Proteins
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins/genetics
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins/metabolism
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence
  • Viral Core Proteins/genetics
  • Viral Core Proteins/metabolism


Dive into the research topics of 'Identification of amino acid residues of influenza virus nucleoprotein essential for RNA binding'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this