Overlapping genes (OGs) are a universal phenomenon in all kingdoms, and viruses display a high content of OGs combined with a high rate of evolution. It is believed that the mechanism of gene overlap is based on overprinting of an existing gene. OGs help virus genes compress a maximum amount of information into short sequences, conferring viral proteins with novel features and thereby increasing their within-host fitness. Analysis of tobamovirus 3'-terminal genes reveals at least two modes of OG organization and mechanisms of interaction with the host. Originally isolated from Solanaceae species, viruses (referred to as Solanaceae-infecting) such as tobacco mosaic virus do not show 3'-terminal overlap between movement protein (MP) and coat protein (CP) genes but do contain open reading frame 6 (ORF6), which overlaps with both genes. Conversely, tobamoviruses, originally isolated from Brassicaceae species (referred to as Brassicaceae-infecting) and also able to infect Solanaceae plants, have no ORF6 but are characterized by overlapping MP and CP genes. Our analysis showed that the MP/CP overlap of Brassicaceae-infecting tobamoviruses results in the following: (i) genome compression and strengthening of subgenomic promoters; (ii) CP gene early expression directly from genomic and dicistronic MP subgenomic mRNA using an internal ribosome entry site (IRES) and a stable hairpin structure in the overlapping region; (iii) loss of ORF6, which influences the symptomatology of Solanaceae-infecting tobamoviruses; and (iv) acquisition of an IRES polypurine-rich region encoding an MP nuclear localization signal. We believe that MP/CP gene overlap may constitute a mechanism for host range expansion and virus adjustment to Brassicaceae plants.
Dorokhov, Y. L., Sheshukova, E. V., & Komarova, T. V. (2017). Tobamovirus 3’-terminal gene overlap may be a mechanism for within-host fitness improvement. Frontiers in Microbiology, 8(MAY). https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2017.00851