The ribosome is the macromolecular machinery in the host cell for which all viruses have to compete. Early in infection, the viral mRNAs have to compete with the host for both the ribosomes and for the limited pool of eukaryotic initiation factors that are needed to facilitate the recruitment of ribosomes to both viral and cellular mRNAs. To circumvent this competition, certain viruses have evolved to recruit ribosomes to IRESs (internal ribosome entry sites), highly specialized RNA elements that are located at the 5′-end of the viral genomes. Here, we discuss how divergent IRES elements can recruit ribosomes and start protein synthesis with only a minimal set of eukaryotic translation initiation factors, and how this mode of translation initiation aids viral gene amplification during early onset of innate immune responses.

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