In coliphage MS2 RNA a long-distance interaction (LDI) between an internal segment of the upstream coat gene and the start region of the replicase gene prevents initiation of replicase synthesis in the absence of coat gene translation. Elongating ribosomes break up the repressor LDI and thus activate the hidden initiation site. Expression studies on partial MS2 cDNA clones identified base pairing between 1427-1433 and 1738-1744, the so-called Min Jou (MJ) interaction, as the molecular basis for the long-range coupling mechanism. Here, we examine the biological significance of this interaction for the control of replicase gene translation. The LDI was disrupted by mutations in the 3'-side and the evolutionary adaptation was monitored upon phage passaging. Two categories of pseudorevertants emerged. The first type had restored the MJ interaction but not necessarily the native sequence. The pseudorevertants of the second type acquired a compensatory substitution some 80 nt downstream of the MJ interaction that stabilizes an adjacent LDI. In one examined case we confirmed that the second site mutations had restored coat-replicase translational coupling. Our results show the importance of translational control for fitness of the phage. They also reveal that the structure that buries the replicase start extends to structure elements bordering the MJ interaction.
- RNA bacteriophage