Using SHAPE-MaP to Model RNA Secondary Structure and Identify 3=UTR Variation in Chikungunya Virus

Emily A. Madden, Kenneth S. Plante, Clayton R. Morrison, Katrina M. Kutchko, Wes Sanders, Kristin M. Long, Sharon Taft-Benz, Marta C. Cruz Cisneros, Ashlyn Morgan White, Sanjay Sarkar, Grace Reynolds, Heather A. Vincent, Alain Laederach, Nathanial J. Moorman, Mark T. Heisea

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is a mosquito-borne alphavirus associated with debilitating arthralgia in humans. RNA secondary structure in the viral genome plays an important role in the lifecycle of alphaviruses; however, the specific role of RNA structure in regulating CHIKV replication is poorly understood. Our previous studies found little conservation in RNA secondary structure between alphaviruses, and this structural divergence creates unique functional structures in specific alphavirus genomes. Therefore, to understand the impact of RNA structure on CHIKV biology, we used SHAPE-MaP to inform the modeling of RNA secondary structure throughout the genome of a CHIKV isolate from the 2013 Caribbean outbreak. We then analyzed regions of the genome with high levels of structural specificity to identify potentially functional RNA secondary structures and identified 23 regions within the CHIKV genome with higher than average structural stability, including four previously identified, functionally important CHIKV RNA structures. We also analyzed the RNA flexibility and secondary structures of multiple 3=UTR variants of CHIKV that are known to affect virus replication in mosquito cells. This analysis found several novel RNA structures within these 3=UTR variants. A duplication in the 3=UTR that enhances viral replication in mosquito cells led to an overall increase in the amount of unstructured RNA in the 3=UTR. This analysis demonstrates that the CHIKV genome contains a number of unique, specific RNA secondary structures and provides a strategy for testing these secondary structures for functional importance in CHIKV replication and pathogenesis. IMPORTANCE Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is a mosquito-borne RNA virus that causes febrile illness and debilitating arthralgia in humans. CHIKV causes explosive outbreaks but there are no approved therapies to treat or prevent CHIKV infection. The CHIKV genome contains functional RNA secondary structures that are essential for proper virus replication. Since RNA secondary structures have only been defined for a small portion of the CHIKV genome, we used a chemical probing method to define the RNA secondary structures of CHIKV genomic RNA. We identified 23 highly specific structured regions of the genome, and confirmed the functional importance of one structure using mutagenesis. Furthermore, we defined the RNA secondary structure of three CHIKV 3=UTR variants that differ in their ability to replicate in mosquito cells. Our study highlights the complexity of the CHIKV genome and describes new systems for designing compensatory mutations to test the functional relevance of viral RNA secondary structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00701-20
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number24
StatePublished - Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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