Sequential disruption of SPLASH-identified vRNA-vRNA interactions challenges their role in influenza A virus genome packaging

A fundamental step in the influenza A virus (IAV) replication cycle is the coordinated packaging of eight distinct genomic RNA segments (i.e. vRNAs) into a viral particle. Although this process is thought to be controlled by specific vRNA-vRNA interactions between the genome segments, few functional interactions have been validated. Recently, a large number of potentially functional vRNA-vRNA interactions have been detected in purified virions using the RNA interactome capture method SPLASH. However, their functional significance in coordinated genome packaging remains largely unclear. Here, we show by systematic mutational analysis that mutant A/SC35M (H7N7) viruses lacking several prominent SPLASH-identified vRNA-vRNA interactions involving the HA segment package the eight genome segments as efficiently as the wild-type virus. We therefore propose that the vRNA-vRNA interactions identified by SPLASH in IAV particles are not necessarily critical for the genome packaging process, leaving the underlying molecular mechanism elusive.