Influenza virus RNA polymerase (FluPol), a heterotrimer composed of PB1, PB2, and PA subunits (P3 in influenza C), performs both transcription and replication of the viral RNA genome. For transcription, FluPol interacts with the C-terminal domain (CTD) of RNA polymerase II (Pol II), which enables FluPol to snatch capped RNA primers from nascent host RNAs. Here, we describe the co-crystal structure of influenza C virus polymerase (FluPolC) bound to a Ser5-phosphorylated CTD (pS5-CTD) peptide. The position of the CTD-binding site at the interface of PB1, P3, and the flexible PB2 C-terminal domains suggests that CTD binding stabilizes the transcription-competent conformation of FluPol. In agreement, both cap snatching and capped primer-dependent transcription initiation by FluPolCare enhanced in the presence of pS5-CTD. Mutations of amino acids in the CTD-binding site reduce viral mRNA synthesis. We propose a model for the activation of the influenza virus transcriptase through its association with pS5-CTD of Pol II. The influenza virus RNA polymerase acts both as transcriptase and replicase. Serna Martin et al. solve the structure of the influenza C virus polymerase bound to a peptide mimicking the C-terminal domain of Pol II and demonstrate that binding to Pol II stabilizes the transcriptase conformation of the viral polymerase.
Grimes, J. M., Masiulis, S., Hengrung, N., Martínez-Alonso, M., Sharps, J., Fodor, E., … Renner, M. (2018). A Mechanism for the Activation of the Influenza Virus Transcriptase. Molecular Cell, 70(6), 1101-1110.e4. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.molcel.2018.05.011