Aichi virus, a member of the family Picornaviridae, encodes a leader (L) protein of 170 amino acids (aa). The Aichi virus L protein exhibits no significant sequence homology to those of other picornaviruses. In this study, we investigated the function of the Aichi virus L protein in virus growth. In vitro translation and cleavage assays indicated that the L protein has no autocatalytic activity and is not involved in polyprotein cleavage. The L-VP0 junction was cleaved by 3C proteinase. Immunoblot analysis showed that the L protein is stably present in infected cells. Characterization of various L mutants derived from an infectious cDNA clone revealed that deletion of 93 aa of the center part (aa 43 to 135), 50 aa of the N-terminal part (aa 4 to 53), or 90 aa of the C-terminal part (aa 74 to 163) abolished viral RNA replication. A mutant (Δ114-163) in which 50 aa of the C-terminal part (aa 114 to 163) were deleted exhibited efficient RNA replication and translation abilities, but the virus yield was 4 log orders lower than that of the wild type. Sedimentation analysis of viral particles generated in mutant Δ114-163 RNA-transfected cells showed that the mutant has a severe defect in the formation of mature virions, but not in that of empty capsids. Thus, the data obtained in this study indicate that the Aichi virus L protein is involved in both viral RNA replication and encapsidation
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