Previous studies in our laboratory have demonstrated that cell-free systems translating the Mahoney strain of poliovirus type I RNA utilize two unique initiation sites. In this study, defective-interfering particles of poliovirus, which contain deletions in the region encoding the capsid proteins, are shown to initiate translation of proteins in vitro at these same two sites. Both the standard virus and the defective-interfering virus RNA direct the synthesis of two polypeptides labeled with n-formyl-methionine (fmet) at their amino termini. The size of the smaller fmet polypeptide synthesized in vitro by the defective virus appears identical in size to that of the standard virus. However, the larger-molecular-weight fmet polypeptide is reduced in size from 115,000 to 69,000 daltons. This correlates exactly with the reduced size of the precursor to the capsid proteins synthesized by the defective virus in vivo and with the size of the deletion in the defective virus RNA (1,200 bases). This provides genetic evidence that the 115,000-dalton fmet polypeptide synthesized into vitro by the standard virus is NCVP1a, the precursor to the coat proteins. Although the identity of the small (5,000 to 10,000 daltons) fmet polypeptide is not clear, several lines of evidence enable us to exclude the possibility that it is VP4, the smallest viral capsid protein.
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