The genome of the porcine transmissible gastroenteritis coronavirus is a plus-strand, polyadenylylated, infectious RNA molecule of approximately 20 kilobases. During virus replication, seven subgenomic mRNAs are generated by what is thought to be a leader-priming mechanism to form a 3'-coterminal nested set. By using radiolabeled, strand-specific, synthetic oligodeoxynucleotide probes in RNA blot hybridization analyses, we have found a minus-strand counterpart for the genome and for each subgenomic mRNA species in the cytoplasm of infected cells. Subgenomic minus strands were found to be components of double-stranded replicative forms and in numbers that surpass full-length antigenome. We propose that subgenomic mRNA replication, in addition to leader-primed transcription, is a significant mechanism of mRNA synthesis and that it functions to amplify mRNAs. It is a mechanism of amplification that has not been described for any other group of RNA viruses. Subgenomic replicons may also function in a manner similar to genomes of defective interfering viruses to lead to the establishment of persistent infections, a universal property of coronaviruses.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/david_brian/45/