Placement of tRNA primer on the primer-binding site requires pol gene expression in avian but not murine retroviruses.

Abstract:

In an early step in the retroviral infectious process, reverse transcriptase copies the genomic RNA of the virus into complementary minus-strand DNA. The primer for this synthetic event is a molecule of cellular tRNA, which is annealed by its 3' 18 nucleotides to a region of the genomic RNA termed the primer-binding site (PBS); the sequence of the PBS and hence the identity of the tRNA depend upon the retrovirus species. In addition to the primer tRNA, retrovirus particles contain a substantial number of other tRNA molecules. The latter tRNA population is enriched for the tRNA species which serves as primer for the virus. While there is considerable evidence that the enrichment for the primer species can be attributed to the pol gene product, nothing is known regarding mechanisms of annealing the primer to the PBS. We have analyzed pol- mutants of avian leukosis virus (ALV) and murine leukemia virus (MuLV) for the presence of primer at the PBS in virion genomic RNA. Remarkably, the results were different for the two viruses: the PBS was substantially occupied by primer in MuLV but not in ALV. Previous data indicates that the Pol-dependent enrichment of the primer within the virion is much greater in ALV than in MuLV. We therefore propose that the absence of primer at the PBS in pol- ALV is due to the deficiency of the primer species within the particle. The results suggest that, at least in MuLV, the tRNA is unwound by either the Gag protein or a cellular protein for annealing to the PBS. Further, the C-terminal 17 amino acids of Gag are unnecessary for this function in MuLV.

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