Ribosomal Frameshifting in Decoding Plant Viral RNAs

Part of the Nucleic Acids and Molecular Biology book series (NUCLEIC, volume 24)


Frameshifting provides an elegant mechanism by which viral RNA both encodes overlapping genes and controls expression levels of those genes. As in animal viruses, the −1 ribosomal frameshift site in the viral mRNA consists of a canonical shifty heptanucleotide followed by a highly structured frameshift stimulatory element, and the gene translated as a result of frameshifting usually encodes the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. In plant viruses, the −1 frameshift stimulatory element consists of either (i) a small pseudoknot stabilized by many triple-stranded regions and a triple base pair containing a protonated cytidine at the helical junction, (ii) an unusual apical loop–internal loop interaction in which a stem-loop in the 3 untranslated region 4 kb downstream base pairs to a bulged stem-loop at the frameshift site, or (iii) a potential simple stem-loop. Other less well-characterized changes in reading frame occur on plant viral RNAs, including a possible +1 frameshift, and net −1 reading frame changes that do not utilize canonical frameshift signals. All these studies reveal the remarkable ways in which plant viral RNAs interact with ribosomes to precisely control protein expression at the ratios needed to sustain virus replication.


Citrus Tristeza Virus Potato Leaf Roll Virus Rabbit Reticulocyte Lysate Beet Western Yellow Virus Wheat Germ Extract 



The authors thank Andrew Firth, John Atkins, and Alex Karasev for valuable advice, and Nikki Krueger for constructing the phylogenetic tree in Fig. 9.2A. This work was funded by USDA National Research Initiative grant 2008-35319-19196 and NIH grant GM067104 to WAM, and NIH grants AI040187 and AI067416 to DPG.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Plant Pathology Department, and Biochemistry, Biophysics & Molecular Biology DepartmentsIowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  2. 2.Department of ChemistryIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

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