Hepatitis C virus (HCV), a positive-strand RNA virus, has been considered to have a poly(U) stretch at the 3′ terminus of the genome. We previously found a novel 98-nucleotide sequence downstream from the poly(U) stretch on the HCV genome by primer extension analysis of the 5′ end of the antigenomic-strand RNA in infected liver (T. Tanaka, N. Kato, M.-J. Cho, and K. Shimotohno, Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 215: 744-749, 1995). Here, we show that the novel sequence is a highly conserved 3′ tail of the HCV genome. We repeated primer extension analyses with four HCV-infected liver samples and found the 98-nucleotide sequence in all the samples. Furthermore, experiments in which RNA oligonucleotide was ligated to the 3′ end of the HCV genome existing in infectious serum revealed nearly identical 3′ termini with no extra sequence down-stream from the 98-nucleotide sequence, suggesting that this sequence is the tail of the HCV genome. This tail sequence was highly conserved among individuals and even between the two most genetically distant HCV types, II/1b and III/2a. Computer modeling predicted that the tail sequence can form a conserved stem-and-loop structure. These results suggest that the novel 3′ tail is a common structure of the HCV genome that plays an important role in initiation of genomic replication.
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