Hillen HS, Bartuli J, Grimm C, Dienemann C, Bedenk K, Szalay AA, Fischer U, Cramer P
Cell. 2019 Dec 12;179(7):1525-1536.e12.
Poxviruses use virus-encoded multisubunit RNA polymerases (vRNAPs) and RNA-processing factors to generate m(7)G-capped mRNAs in the host cytoplasm. In the accompanying paper, we report structures of core and complete vRNAP complexes of the prototypic Vaccinia poxvirus (Grimm et al., 2019; in this issue of Cell). Here, we present the cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) structures of Vaccinia vRNAP in the form of a transcribing elongation complex and in the form of a co-transcriptional capping complex that contains the viral capping enzyme (CE). The trifunctional CE forms two mobile modules that bind the polymerase surface around the RNA exit tunnel. RNA extends from the vRNAP active site through this tunnel and into the active site of the CE triphosphatase. Structural comparisons suggest that growing RNA triggers large-scale rearrangements on the surface of the transcription machinery during the transition from transcription initiation to RNA capping and elongation. Our structures unravel the basis for synthesis and co-transcriptional modification of poxvirus RNA.