The positive-strand RNA bromoviruses encode two nonstructural proteins, 1a and 2a, involved in RNA-dependent RNA replication. These proteins have extensive sequence similarities with methyltransferase, helicase, and polymerase proteins of other plant and animal viruses. 1a and 2a can also form a complex in vitro. To explore whether 1a-2a interaction is required for RNA replication in vivo, we reassorted the 1a and 2a genes from two different bromoviruses, brome mosaic virus (BMV) and cowpea chlorotic mottle virus (CCMV). 1a and 2a were expressed independently of viral replication by using RNA- or DNA-based transient expression, and their in vivo RNA replication activities were tested in protoplasts with BMV and CCMV RNA3 templates. RNA-based transient expression confirmed prior indications that bromovirus RNA replication is more sensitive to reductions in 1a expression than to reductions in 2a expression. DNA-based expression of the homologous combinations of 1a and 2a supported high levels of RNA synthesis, but both 1a-2a heterologous combinations exhibited RNA synthesis defects. The combination of CCMV 1a and BMV 2a did not support detectable synthesis of negative-strand, positive-strand, or subgenomic RNA. The converse combination of BMV 1a and CCMV 2a was preferentially defective in positive-strand and subgenomic RNA accumulation, showing that 1a-2a interaction is involved in these processes in ways distinct from negative-strand RNA synthesis, which was only slightly affected. These results indicate that at least some functions of 1a and 2a operate in a mutually dependent manner in vivo and that the mechanisms of positive- and negative-strand RNA synthesis are differentiated in part by features of such interactions
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