Coxsackievirus A16 (CA16) and enterovirus 71 (EV71) are two main causative pathogens of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD). Unlike EV71, virulence determinants of CA16, particularly within 5′ untranslated region (5′UTR), have not been investigated until now. Here, a series of nucleotides present in 5′UTR of lethal but not in non-lethal CA16 strains were screened by aligning nucleotide sequences of lethal circulating Changchun CA16 and the prototype G10 as well as non-lethal SHZH05 strains. A representative infectious clone based on a lethal Changchun024 sequence and infectious mutants with various nucleotide alterations in 5′UTR were constructed and further investigated by assessing virus replication in vitro and virulence in neonatal mice. Compared to the lethal infectious clone, the M2 mutant with a change from cytosine to uracil at nucleotide 104 showed weaker virulence and lower replication capacity. The predicted secondary structure of the 5′UTR of CA16 RNA showed that M2 mutant located between the cloverleaf and stem-loop II, affected interactions between the 5′UTR and the heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein K (hnRNP K) and A1 (hnRNP A1) that are important for translational activity. Thus, our research determined a virulence-associated site in the 5′UTR of CA16, providing a crucial molecular target for antiviral drug development.
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