Transcripts possessing a 5'-triphosphate are a hallmark of viral transcription and can trigger the host antiviral response. 5'-triphosphates are also found on common host transcripts transcribed by RNA polymerase III (RNAP III), yet how these transcripts remain non-immunostimulatory is incompletely understood. Most microRNAs (miRNAs) are 5'-monophosphorylated as a result of sequential endonucleolytic processing by Drosha and Dicer from longer RNA polymerase II (RNAP II)-transcribed primary transcripts. In contrast, bovine leukemia virus (BLV) expresses subgenomic RNAP III transcripts that give rise to miRNAs independent of Drosha processing. Here, we demonstrate that each BLV pre-miRNA is directly transcribed by RNAP III from individual, compact RNAP III type II genes. Thus, similar to manmade RNAP III-generated short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs), the BLV pre-miRNAs are initially 5'-triphosphorylated. Nonetheless, the derivative 5p miRNAs and shRNA-generated 5p small RNAs (sRNAs) possess a 5'-monophosphate. Our enzymatic characterization and small RNA sequencing data demonstrate that BLV 5p miRNAs are co-terminal with 5'-triphosphorylated miRNA precursors (pre-miRNAs). Thus, these results identify a 5'-tri-phosphatase activity that is involved in the biogenesis of BLV miRNAs and shRNA-generated sRNAs. This work advances our understanding of retroviral miRNA and shRNA biogenesis and may have implications regarding the immunostimulatory capacity of RNAP III transcripts.
Burke, J. M., Bass, C. R., Kincaid, R. P., & Sullivan, C. S. (2014). Identification of tri-phosphatase activity in the biogenesis of retroviral microRNAs and RNAP III-generated shRNAs. Nucleic Acids Research, 42(22), 13949–13962. https://doi.org/10.1093/nar/gku1247