Secondary structure of the segment 5 genomic RNA of influenza A virus and its application for designing antisense oligonucleotides

Influenza virus causes seasonal epidemics and dangerous pandemic outbreaks. It is a single stranded (-)RNA virus with a segmented genome. Eight segments of genomic viral RNA (vRNA) form the virion, which are then transcribed and replicated in host cells. The secondary structure of vRNA is an important regulator of virus biology and can be a target for finding new therapeutics. In this paper, the secondary structure of segment 5 vRNA is determined based on chemical mapping data, free energy minimization and structure-sequence conservation analysis for type A influenza. The revealed secondary structure has circular folding with a previously reported panhandle motif and distinct novel domains. Conservations of base pairs is 87% on average with many structural motifs that are highly conserved. Isoenergetic microarray mapping was used to additionally validate secondary structure and to discover regions that easy bind short oligonucleotides. Antisense oligonucleotides, which were designed based on modeled secondary structure and microarray mapping, inhibit influenza A virus proliferation in MDCK cells. The most potent oligonucleotides lowered virus titer by ~90%. These results define universal for type A structured regions that could be important for virus function, as well as new targets for antisense therapeutics.