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Systematic Assembly of a Full-Length Infectious cDNA of Mouse Hepatitis Virus Strain A59

American Society for Microbiology
Publication Date
  • Replication
  • Biology
  • Engineering
  • Medicine


A novel method was developed to assemble a full-length infectious cDNA of the group II coronavirus mouse hepatitis virus strain A59 (MHV-A59). Seven contiguous cDNA clones that spanned the 31.5-kb MHV genome were isolated. The ends of the cDNAs were engineered with unique junctions and assembled with only the adjacent cDNA subclones, resulting in an intact MHV-A59 cDNA construct of ∼31.5 kb in length. The interconnecting restriction site junctions that are located at the ends of each cDNA are systematically removed during the assembly of the complete full-length cDNA product, allowing reassembly without the introduction of nucleotide changes. RNA transcripts derived from the full-length MHV-A59 construct were infectious, although transfection frequencies were enhanced 10- to 15-fold in the presence of transcripts encoding the nucleocapsid protein N. Plaque-purified virus derived from the infectious construct replicated efficiently and displayed similar growth kinetics, plaque morphology, and cytopathology in murine cells as did wild-type MHV-A59. Molecularly cloned viruses recognized the MHV receptor (MHVR) for docking and entry, and pretreatment of cells with monoclonal antibodies against MHVR blocked virus entry and replication. Cells infected with molecularly cloned MHV-A59 virus expressed replicase (gene 1) proteins identical to those of laboratory MHV-A59. Importantly, the molecularly cloned viruses contained three marker mutations that had been derived from the engineered component clones. Full-length infectious constructs of MHV-A59 will permit genetic modifications of the entire coronavirus genome, particularly in the replicase gene. The method has the potential to be used to construct viral, microbial, or eukaryotic genomes approaching several million base pairs in length and used to insert restriction sites at any given nucleotide in a microbial genome.

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