Translation initiation at alternate in-frame AUG codons in the rabies virus phosphoprotein mRNA is mediated by a ribosomal leaky scanning mechanism.
The phosphoprotein of rabies virus is a 297-amino-acid polypeptide encoded by the longest open reading frame of the P gene. Immunoprecipitation experiments using a monoclonal antiserum directed against the P protein detected the P protein and at least four additional shorter products in infected cells, cells transfected with a plasmid encoding the wild-type P protein, and purified virus (CVS strain). By means of deletion analyses, these proteins were shown to be translated from secondary downstream in-frame AUG initiation codons. Immunofluorescence experiments indicated that all these P products were found in the cytoplasm of transfected cells; however, the proteins initiated from the third, fourth, and fifth AUG codons were found mostly in the nucleus. Changes in the 5'-terminal region of the P mRNA (including site-specific mutations, deletions, and insertions) demonstrated that a leaky scanning mechanism is responsible for translation initiation of the P gene at several sites.