One of the most exciting areas in contemporary retrovirus research is the discovery of "restriction factors". These are cellular proteins that act after virus entry to inhibit infection by or replication of retroviruses (and other viruses and intracellular pathogens). We briefly discuss here three antiretroviral restriction factors in mice: Fv1, APOBEC3, and tetherin, touching on both biological and molecular aspects of these restriction systems.
Retroviral virions initially assemble in an immature form that differs from that of the mature infectious particle. The RNA genomes in both immature and infectious particles are dimers, and interactions between the RNA dimer and the viral Gag protein ensure selective packaging into nascent immature virions. We used high-sensitivity selective 2'-hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension (SHAPE) to obtain nucleotide-resolution structural information from scarce, femtomole quantities of Moloney murine leukemia virus (MuLV) RNA inside authentic virions and from viral RNA extracted from immature (protease-minus) virions. Our secondary structure model of the dimerization and packaging domain indicated that a stable intermolecular duplex known as PAL2, previously shown to be present in mature infectious MuLV particles, was sequestered in an alternate stem-loop structure inside immature virions. The intermediate state corresponded closely to a late-folding intermediate that we detected in time-resolved studies of the free MuLV RNA, suggesting that the immature RNA structure reflects trapping of the intermediate folding state by interactions in the immature virion. We propose models for the RNA-protein interactions that trap the RNA in the immature state and for the conformational rearrangement that occurs during maturation of virion particles.
Many murine leukemia viruses (MLVs) are partially resistant to restriction by mouse APOBEC3 (mA3) and essentially fully resistant to induction of G-to-A mutations by mA3. In contrast, Vif-deficient HIV-1 (?Vif HIV-1) is profoundly restricted by mA3, and the restriction includes high levels of G-to-A mutation. Human APOBEC3G (hA3G), unlike mA3, is fully active against MLVs. We produced a glutathione S-transferase-mA3 fusion protein in insect cells and demonstrated that it possesses cytidine deaminase activity, as expected. This activity is localized within the N-terminal domain of this 2-domain protein; the C-terminal domain is enzymatically inactive but required for mA3 encapsidation into retrovirus particles. We found that a specific arginine residue and several aromatic residues, as well as the zinc-coordinating cysteines in the C-terminal domain, are necessary for mA3 packaging; a structural model of this domain suggests that these residues line a potential nucleic acid-binding interface. Mutation of a few potential phosphorylation sites in mA3 drastically reduces its antiviral activity by impairing either deaminase activity or its encapsidation. mA3 deaminates short single-stranded DNA oligonucleotides preferentially toward their 3' ends, whereas hA3G exhibits the opposite polarity. However, when packaged into infectious ?Vif HIV-1 virions, both mA3 and hA3G preferentially induce deaminations toward the 5' end of minus-strand viral DNA, presumably because of the sequence of events during reverse transcription in vivo. Despite the fact that mA3 in MLV particles does not induce detectable deaminations upon infection, its deaminase activity is easily detected in virus lysates. We still do not understand how MLV resists mA3-induced G-to-A mutation.
The conformational changes within single HIV-1 Gag molecules that occur during assembly into immature viruses are poorly understood. Using an in vitro assembly assay, it has been proposed that HIV-1 Gag undergoes a conformational transition from a compact conformation in solution to an extended rod-like conformation in virus-like particles (VLPs). Here we used single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer (smFRET) to test this model by directly probing the conformation of single HIV-1 Gag molecules. We demonstrate that monomeric HIV-1 Gag lacking the p6 domain and the N-terminal myristoyl moiety is found in solution predominantly in a compact conformation. Gag in this conformation, and in the presence of nucleic acid, assembles into 30-nm-diameter particles. However, with the addition of inositol hexakisphosphate, Gag adopts a linear conformation and assembles into full-sized ?100-to-150-nm-diameter VLPs. Parallel fluorescence correlation spectroscopy measurements show that this conformational transition occurs early in the assembly process when Gag oligomers are small, perhaps as early as upon dimerization. Thus, smFRET measurements confirm that HIV-1 Gag transitions from a compact to a linear conformation during the formation of VLPs. Our results are consistent with a model whereby binding of HIV-1 Gag to phosphoinositides at the plasma membrane stabilizes an extended conformation and promotes oligomerization into the radially aligned immature capsid.
The antiviral lectins griffithsin (GRFT), cyanovirin-N (CV-N) and scytovirin (SVN), which inhibit several enveloped viruses including lentiviruses, were examined for their ability to inhibit entry mediated by Env proteins of delta- and gammaretroviruses. The glycoproteins from HTLV-1 were resistant to the antiviral effects of all three lectins. For gammaretroviruses, CV-N inhibited entry mediated by some but not all of the envelopes examined, whereas GRFT and SVN displayed only little or no effect.
Nuclear export of unspliced and singly spliced viral mRNA is a critical step in the HIV life cycle. The structural basis by which the virus selects its own mRNA among more abundant host cellular RNAs for export has been a mystery for more than 25 years. Here, we describe an unusual topological structure that the virus uses to recognize its own mRNA. The viral Rev response element (RRE) adopts an "A"-like structure in which the two legs constitute two tracks of binding sites for the viral Rev protein and position the two primary known Rev-binding sites ~55 Å apart, matching the distance between the two RNA-binding motifs in the Rev dimer. Both the legs of the "A" and the separation between them are required for optimal RRE function. This structure accounts for the specificity of Rev for the RRE and thus the specific recognition of the viral RNA.
Pathogenic retroviruses have evolved multiple means for evading host restriction factors such as apolipoprotein B editing complex (APOBEC3) proteins. Here, we show that murine leukemia virus (MLV) has a unique means of counteracting APOBEC3 and other cytosolic sensors of viral nucleic acid. Using virus isolated from infected WT and APOBEC3 KO mice, we demonstrate that the MLV glycosylated Gag protein (glyco-Gag) enhances viral core stability. Moreover, in vitro endogenous reverse transcription reactions of the glyco-Gag mutant virus were substantially inhibited compared with WT virus, but only in the presence of APOBEC3. Thus, glyco-Gag rendered the reverse transcription complex in the viral core resistant to APOBEC3. Glyco-Gag in the virion also rendered MLV resistant to other cytosolic sensors of viral reverse transcription products in newly infected cells. Strikingly, glyco-Gag mutant virus reverted to glyco-Gag-containing virus only in WT and not APOBEC3 KO mice, indicating that counteracting APOBEC3 is the major function of glyco-Gag. Thus, in contrast to the HIV viral infectivity factor protein, which prevents APOBEC3 packaging in the virion, the MLV glyco-Gag protein uses a unique mechanism to counteract the antiviral action of APOBEC3 in vivo--namely, protecting the reverse transcription complex in viral cores from APOBEC3. These data suggest that capsid integrity may play a critical role in virus resistance to intrinsic cellular antiviral resistance factors that act at the early stages of infection.
Immature retrovirus particles are assembled from the multidomain Gag protein. In these particles, the Gag proteins are arranged radially as elongated rods. We have previously characterized the properties of HIV-1 Gag in solution. In the absence of nucleic acid, HIV-1 Gag displays moderately weak interprotein interactions, existing in monomer-dimer equilibrium. Neutron scattering and hydrodynamic studies suggest that the protein is compact, and biochemical studies indicate that the two ends can approach close in three-dimensional space, implying the need for a significant conformational change during assembly. We now describe the properties of the Gag protein of Moloney murine leukemia virus (MLV), a gammaretrovirus. We found that this protein is very different from HIV-1 Gag: it has much weaker protein-protein interaction and is predominantly monomeric in solution. This has allowed us to study the protein by small-angle X-ray scattering and to build a low-resolution molecular envelope for the protein. We found that MLV Gag is extended in solution, with an axial ratio of ?7, comparable to its dimensions in immature particles. Mutational analysis suggests that runs of prolines in its matrix and p12 domains and the highly charged stretch at the C terminus of its capsid domain all contribute to this extended conformation. These differences between MLV Gag and HIV-1 Gag and their implications for retroviral assembly are discussed.
Murine leukemia viruses (MLVs) are among the simplest retroviruses. Prototypical gammaretroviruses encode only the three polyproteins that will be used in the assembly of progeny virus particles. These are the Gag polyprotein, which is the structural protein of a retrovirus particle, the Pol protein, comprising the three retroviral enzymes-protease, which catalyzes the maturation of the particle, reverse transcriptase, which copies the viral RNA into DNA upon infection of a new host cell, and integrase, which inserts the DNA into the chromosomal DNA of the host cell, and the Env polyprotein, which induces the fusion of the viral membrane with that of the new host cell, initiating infection. In general, a productive MLV infection has no obvious effect upon host cells. Although gammaretroviral structure and replication follow the same broad outlines as those of other retroviruses, we point out a number of significant differences between different retroviral genera.
Size polydispersity of immature human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) particles represents a challenge for traditional methods of biological ultrastructural analysis. An in vitro model for immature HIV-1 particles constructed from recombinant Gag proteins lacking residues 16-99 and the p6 domain assembled around spherical nanoparticles functionalized with DNA. This template-directed assembly approach led to a significant reduction in size polydispersity and revealed previously unknown structural features of immature-like HIV-1 particles. Electron microscopy and image reconstruction of these particles suggest that the Gag shell formed from different protein regions that are connected by a "scar"-an extended defect connecting the edges of two continuous, regularly packed protein layers. Thus, instead of a holey protein array, the experimental model presented here appears to consist of a continuous array of ?5000 proteins enveloping the core, in which regular regions are separated by extended areas of disorder.
A newly discovered gammaretrovirus, termed XMRV, was recently reported to be present in the prostate cancer cell line CWR22Rv1. Using a combination of both immunohistochemistry with broadly-reactive murine leukemia virus (MLV) anti-sera and PCR, we determined if additional prostate cancer or other cell lines contain XMRV or MLV-related viruses. Our study included a total of 72 cell lines, which included 58 of the 60 human cancer cell lines used in anticancer drug screens and maintained at the NCI-Frederick (NCI-60). We have identified gammaretroviruses in two additional prostate cancer cell lines: LAPC4 and VCaP, and show that these viruses are replication competent. Viral genome sequencing identified the virus in LAPC4 and VCaP as nearly identical to another known xenotropic MLV, Bxv-1. We also identified a gammaretrovirus in the non-small-cell lung carcinoma cell line EKVX. Prostate cancer cell lines appear to have a propensity for infection with murine gammaretroviruses, and we propose that this may be in part due to cell line establishment by xenograft passage in immunocompromised mice. It is unclear if infection with these viruses is necessary for cell line establishment, or what confounding role they may play in experiments performed with these commonly used lines. Importantly, our results suggest a need for regular screening of cancer cell lines for retroviral "contamination", much like routine mycoplasma testing.
Expression of a retroviral protein, Gag, in mammalian cells is sufficient for assembly of immature virus-like particles (VLPs). VLP assembly is mediated largely by interactions between the capsid (CA) domains of Gag molecules but is facilitated by binding of the nucleocapsid (NC) domain to nucleic acid. We have investigated the role of SP1, a spacer between CA and NC in HIV-1 Gag, in VLP assembly. Mutational analysis showed that even subtle changes in the first 4 residues of SP1 destroy the ability of Gag to assemble correctly, frequently leading to formation of tubes or other misassembled structures rather than proper VLPs. We also studied the conformation of the CA-SP1 junction region in solution, using both molecular dynamics simulations and circular dichroism. Consonant with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) studies from other laboratories, we found that SP1 is nearly unstructured in aqueous solution but undergoes a concerted change to an ?-helical conformation when the polarity of the environment is reduced by addition of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), trifluoroethanol, or ethanol. Remarkably, such a coil-to-helix transition is also recapitulated in an aqueous medium at high peptide concentrations. The exquisite sensitivity of SP1 to mutational changes and its ability to undergo a concentration-dependent structural transition raise the possibility that SP1 could act as a molecular switch to prime HIV-1 Gag for VLP assembly. We suggest that changes in the local environment of SP1 when Gag oligomerizes on nucleic acid might trigger this switch.
Retrovirus particles are constructed from a single virus-encoded protein, termed Gag. Given that assembly is an essential step in the viral replication cycle, it is a potential target for antiviral therapy. However, such an approach has not yet been exploited because of the lack of fundamental knowledge concerning the structures and interactions responsible for assembly. Assembling an infectious particle entails a remarkably diverse array of interactions, both specific and nonspecific, between Gag proteins and RNAs. These interactions are essential for the construction of the particle, for packaging of the viral RNA into the particle, and for placement of the primer for viral DNA synthesis. Recent results have provided some new insights into each of these interactions. In the case of HIV-1 Gag, it is clear that more than one domain of the protein contributes to Gag-RNA interaction.
Retroviruses replicate by reverse transcribing their single-stranded RNA genomes into double-stranded DNA using specific cellular tRNAs to prime cDNA synthesis. In HIV-1, human tRNA(3)(Lys) serves as the primer and is packaged into virions during assembly. The viral Gag protein is believed to chaperone tRNA(3)(Lys) placement onto the genomic RNA primer binding site; however, the timing and possible regulation of this event are currently unknown. Composed of the matrix (MA), capsid (CA), nucleocapsid (NC), and p6 domains, the multifunctional HIV-1 Gag polyprotein orchestrates the highly coordinated process of virion assembly, but the contribution of these domains to tRNA(3)(Lys) annealing is unclear. Here, we show that NC is absolutely essential for annealing and that the MA domain inhibits Gags tRNA annealing capability. During assembly, MA specifically interacts with inositol phosphate (IP)-containing lipids in the plasma membrane (PM). Surprisingly, we find that IPs stimulate Gag-facilitated tRNA annealing but do not stimulate annealing in Gag variants lacking the MA domain or containing point mutations involved in PM binding. Moreover, we find that IPs prevent MA from binding to nucleic acids but have little effect on NC or Gag. We propose that Gag binds to RNA either with both NC and MA domains or with NC alone and that MA-IP interactions alter Gags binding mode. We propose that MAs interactions with the PM trigger the switch between these two binding modes and stimulate Gags chaperone function, which may be important for the regulation of events such as tRNA primer annealing.
Retrovirus particles in which the Gag protein has not yet been cleaved by the viral protease are termed immature particles. The viral RNA within these particles shows clear evidence of the action of a nucleic acid chaperone (NAC): the genomic RNA is dimeric, and a cellular tRNA molecule is annealed, by its 3 18 nucleotides, to a complementary stretch in the viral RNA, in preparation for priming reverse transcription in the next round of infection. It seems very likely that the NAC that has catalyzed dimerization and tRNA annealing is the NC domain of the Gag protein itself. However, neither the dimeric linkage nor the tRNA:viral RNA complex has the same structure as those in mature virus particles: thus the conformational effects of Gag within the particles are not equivalent to those of the free NC protein present in mature particles. It is not known whether these dissimilarities reflect intrinsic differences in the NAC activities of Gag and NC, or limitations on Gag imposed by the structure of the immature particle. Analysis of the interactions of recombinant Gag proteins with nucleic acids is complicated by the fact that they result in assembly of virus-like particles. Nevertheless, the available data indicates that the affinity of Gag for nucleic acids can be considerably higher than that of free NC. This enhanced affinity may be due to contributions of the matrix domain, a positively charged region at the N-terminus of Gag; interactions of neighboring Gag molecules with each other may also increase the affinity due to cooperativity of the binding. Recombinant HIV-1 Gag protein clearly exhibits NAC activity. In two well-studied experimental systems, Gag was more efficient than NC, as its NAC effects could be detected at a significantly lower molar ratio of protein to nucleotide than with NC. In one system, binding of nucleic acid by the matrix domain of Gag retarded the Gag-induced annealing of two RNAs; this effect could be ameliorated by the competitive binding of inositol hexakisphosphate to the matrix domain.
Gag orchestrates the assembly and release of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) particles. We explored here the potential of anti-Gag RNA aptamers to inhibit HIV-1 replication. In vitro, RNA aptamers raised against an HIV-1 Gag protein, lacking the N-terminal myristate and the C-terminal p6 (DP6-Gag), could bind to matrix protein (MA), nucleocapsid protein (NC), or entire DP6-Gag protein. Upon cotransfection with pNL4-3.Luc molecular clone into 293T cells, six of the aptamers caused mild inhibition (2- to 3-fold) in the extracellular capsid levels, and one aptamer displayed 20-fold inhibition. The reduction was not due to a release defect but reflected Gag mRNA levels. We hypothesized that the aptamers influence genomic RNA levels via perturbation of specific Gag-genomic RNA interactions. Binding studies revealed that the "NC-binders" specifically compete with the packaging signal (?) of HIV-1 for binding to DP6-Gag. Therefore, we tested the ability of two NC-binders to inhibit viruses containing ?-region deletions (?SL1 or ?SL3) and found that the NC-binders were no longer able to inhibit Gag synthesis. The inability of these aptamers to inhibit ?-deleted viruses correlated with the absence of competition with the corresponding ? transcripts lacking SL1 or SL3 for binding DP6-Gag in vitro. These results indicate that the NC-binding aptamers disrupt Gag-genomic RNA interaction and negatively affect genomic RNA transcription, processing, or stability. Our results reveal an essential interaction between HIV-1 Gag and the ?-region that may be distinct from that which occurs during the encapsidation of genomic RNA. Thus, anti-Gag aptamers can be an effective tool to perturb Gag-genomic RNA interactions.
All retroviral genomic RNAs contain a cis-acting packaging signal by which dimeric genomes are selectively packaged into nascent virions. However, it is not understood how Gag (the viral structural protein) interacts with these signals to package the genome with high selectivity. We probed the structure of murine leukemia virus RNA inside virus particles using SHAPE, a high-throughput RNA structure analysis technology. These experiments showed that NC (the nucleic acid binding domain derived from Gag) binds within the virus to the sequence UCUG-UR-UCUG. Recombinant Gag and NC proteins bound to this same RNA sequence in dimeric RNA in vitro; in all cases, interactions were strongest with the first U and final G in each UCUG element. The RNA structural context is critical: High-affinity binding requires base-paired regions flanking this motif, and two UCUG-UR-UCUG motifs are specifically exposed in the viral RNA dimer. Mutating the guanosine residues in these two motifs--only four nucleotides per genomic RNA--reduced packaging 100-fold, comparable to the level of nonspecific packaging. These results thus explain the selective packaging of dimeric RNA. This paradigm has implications for RNA recognition in general, illustrating how local context and RNA structure can create information-rich recognition signals from simple single-stranded sequence elements in large RNAs.
Several recent articles have reported the presence of a gammaretrovirus, termed "XMRV" (xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus) in prostate cancers (PCa). If confirmed, this could have enormous implications for the detection, prevention, and treatment of PCa. However, other articles report failure to detect XMRV in PCa. We tested nearly 800 PCa samples, using a combination of real-time PCR and immunohistochemistry (IHC). The PCR reactions were simultaneously monitored for amplification of a single-copy human gene, to confirm the quality of the sample DNA and its suitability for PCR. Controls showed that the PCR assay could detect the XMRV in a single infected cell, even in the presence of a 10,000-fold excess of uninfected human cells. The IHC used 2 rabbit polyclonal antisera, each prepared against a purified murine leukemia virus (MLV) protein. Both antisera always stained XMRV-infected or -transfected cells, but never stained control cells. No evidence for XMRV in PCa was obtained in these experiments. We discuss possible explanations for the discrepancies in the results from different laboratories. It is possible that XMRV is not actually circulating in the human population; even if it is, the data do not seem to support a causal role for this virus in PCa.
The retroviral Gag polyprotein mediates viral assembly. The Gag protein has been shown to interact with other Gag proteins, with the viral RNA, and with the cell membrane during the assembly process. Intrinsically disordered regions linking ordered domains make characterization of the protein structure difficult. Through small-angle scattering and molecular modeling, we have previously shown that monomeric human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) Gag protein in solution adopts compact conformations. However, cryo-electron microscopic analysis of immature virions shows that in these particles, HIV-1 Gag protein molecules are rod shaped. These differing results imply that large changes in Gag conformation are possible and may be required for viral formation. By recapitulating key interactions in the assembly process and characterizing the Gag protein using neutron scattering, we have identified interactions capable of reversibly extending the Gag protein. In addition, we demonstrate advanced applications of neutron reflectivity in resolving Gag conformations on a membrane. Several kinds of evidence show that basic residues found on the distal N- and C-terminal domains enable both ends of Gag to bind to either membranes or nucleic acid. These results, together with other published observations, suggest that simultaneous interactions of an HIV-1 Gag molecule with all three components (protein, nucleic acid, and membrane) are required for full extension of the protein.
The N-terminal matrix (MA) domain of the HIV-1 Gag protein is responsible for binding to the plasma membrane of host cells during viral assembly. The putative membrane-binding interface of MA was previously mapped by means of mutagenesis and analysis of its trimeric crystal structure. However, the orientation of MA on membranes has not been directly determined by experimental measurements. We present neutron reflectivity measurements that resolve the one-dimensional scattering length density profile of MA bound to a biomimetic of the native viral membrane. A molecular refinement procedure was developed using atomic structures of MA to determine the orientation of the protein on the membrane. The orientation defines a lipid-binding interface consistent with previous mutagenesis results. The MA protein maintains this orientation without the presence of a myristate group, driven only by electrostatic interactions. Furthermore, MA is found to penetrate the membrane headgroup region peripherally such that only the side chains of specific Lys and Arg residues interact with the surface. The results suggest that electrostatic interactions are sufficient to favorably orient MA on viral membrane mimics. The spatial determination of the membrane-bound protein demonstrates the ability of neutron reflectivity to discern orientation and penetration under physiologically relevant conditions.
The HIV-1 Gag polyprotein precursor has multiple domains including nucleocapsid (NC). Although mature NC and NC embedded in Gag are nucleic acid chaperones (proteins that remodel nucleic acid structure), few studies include detailed analysis of the chaperone activity of partially processed Gag proteins and comparison with NC and Gag. Here we address this issue by using a reconstituted minus-strand transfer system. NC and NC-containing Gag proteins exhibited annealing and duplex destabilizing activities required for strand transfer. Surprisingly, unlike NC, with increasing concentrations, Gag proteins drastically inhibited the DNA elongation step. This result is consistent with "nucleic acid-driven multimerization" of Gag and the reported slow dissociation of Gag from bound nucleic acid, which prevent reverse transcriptase from traversing the template ("roadblock" mechanism). Our findings illustrate one reason why NC (and not Gag) has evolved as a critical cofactor in reverse transcription, a paradigm that might also extend to other retrovirus systems.
The mechanism of assembly of retroviruses is not fully understood. Purification of retroviral Gag protein and studying its solution state and assembly properties might provide insights into retroviral assembly mechanisms. Here we describe a rapid method for the purification of Gag and its subsequent assembly into virus-like particles in a defined system in vitro. The purification scheme does not use affinity tags, but purifies the native protein by virtue of its high affinity for phosphocellulose, a property presumably related to the affinity of Gag proteins for nucleic acids.
Expression of the retroviral Gag protein leads to formation of virus-like particles in mammalian cells. In vitro and in vivo experiments show that nucleic acid is also required for particle assembly. However, several studies have demonstrated that chimeric proteins in which the nucleocapsid domain of Gag is replaced by a leucine zipper motif can also assemble efficiently in mammalian cells. We have now analyzed assembly by chimeric proteins in which nucleocapsid of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) Gag is replaced by either a dimerizing or a trimerizing zipper. Both proteins assemble well in human 293T cells; the released particles lack detectable RNA. The proteins can coassemble into particles together with full-length, wild-type Gag. We purified these proteins from bacterial lysates. These recombinant "Gag-Zipper" proteins are oligomeric in solution and do not assemble unless cofactors are added; either nucleic acid or inositol phosphates (IPs) can promote particle assembly. When mixed with one equivalent of IPs (which do not support assembly of wild-type Gag), the "dimerizing" Gag-Zipper protein misassembles into very small particles, while the "trimerizing" protein assembles correctly. However, addition of both IPs and nucleic acid leads to correct assembly of all three proteins; the "dimerizing" Gag-Zipper protein also assembles correctly if inositol hexakisphosphate is supplemented with other polyanions. We suggest that correct assembly requires both oligomeric association at the C terminus of Gag and neutralization of positive charges near its N terminus.
The Gag polyprotein is the building block of retroviral particles and its expression is sufficient for assembly in cells. In HIV-1, nucleic acid (NA) is required for recombinant Gag molecules to assemble in a defined system in vitro. Experiments performed by Barklis and co-workers suggested that NA contributes to assembly by promoting Gag oligomerization. Gag is composed of four main domains: the matrix (MA), capsid (CA), nucleocapsid (NC), and p6 domains. We have recently shown that the SP1 linker, which lies between the CA and NC domains, assumes a helical structure at high, but not low, concentrations. We suggested that Gag oligomerization mediates assembly via an SP1-dependent conformational switch that exposes new interfaces for assembly. Although NA is required for assembly in vitro, deletion of NC, the main RNA-binding domain, does not eliminate particle formation in vivo; these particles lack NA. We hypothesized that alternative pathways that lead to Gag oligomerization or an increase in local Gag concentration, namely Gag-membrane or inter-protein interactions, rescue assembly in the absence of NC-RNA binding. We constructed mutants in which either Gag-membrane binding, the Gag dimer interface, or NC-RNA binding are disrupted. None of these mutants disables assembly. However, combined mutations in any two of these three classes render Gag completely unable to form virus-like particles. Thus, it seems, Gag utilizes at least three types of interactions to form oligomers and any two out of the three are sufficient for assembly.
Expression of a retroviral Gag protein in mammalian cells leads to the assembly of virus particles. In vitro, recombinant Gag proteins are soluble but assemble into virus-like particles (VLPs) upon addition of nucleic acid. We have proposed that Gag undergoes a conformational change when it is at a high local concentration and that this change is an essential prerequisite for particle assembly; perhaps one way that this condition can be fulfilled is by the cooperative binding of Gag molecules to nucleic acid. We have now characterized the assembly in human cells of HIV-1 Gag molecules with a variety of defects, including (i) inability to bind to the plasma membrane, (ii) near-total inability of their capsid domains to engage in dimeric interaction, and (iii) drastically compromised ability to bind RNA. We find that Gag molecules with any one of these defects still retain some ability to assemble into roughly spherical objects with roughly correct radius of curvature. However, combination of any two of the defects completely destroys this capability. The results suggest that these three functions are somewhat redundant with respect to their contribution to particle assembly. We suggest that they are alternative mechanisms for the initial concentration of Gag molecules; under our experimental conditions, any two of the three is sufficient to lead to some semblance of correct assembly.
APOBEC3 proteins function to restrict the replication of retroviruses. One mechanism of this restriction is deamination of cytidines to uridines in (-) strand DNA, resulting in hypermutation of guanosines to adenosines in viral (+) strands. However, Moloney murine leukemia virus (MoMLV) is partially resistant to restriction by mouse APOBEC3 (mA3) and virtually completely resistant to mA3-induced hypermutation. In contrast, the sequences of MLV genomes that are in mouse DNA suggest that they were susceptible to mA3-induced deamination when they infected the mouse germline. We tested the possibility that sensitivity to mA3 restriction and to deamination resides in the viral gag gene. We generated a chimeric MLV in which the gag gene was from an endogenous MLV in the mouse germline, while the remainder of the viral genome was from MoMLV. This chimera was fully infectious but its response to mA3 was indistinguishable from that of MoMLV. Thus, the Gag protein does not seem to control the sensitivity of MLVs to mA3. We also found that MLVs inactivated by mA3 do not synthesize viral DNA upon infection; thus mA3 restriction of MLV occurs before or at reverse transcription. In contrast, HIV-1 restricted by mA3 and MLVs restricted by human APOBEC3G do synthesize DNA; these DNAs exhibit APOBEC3-induced hypermutation.
XMRV was first described in 2006, when it was identified in samples isolated from prostate cancer tissues. However, studies have since shown that XMRV arose in the laboratory and was formed by genetic recombination between two viral genomes carried in the germline DNA of mice used during serial transplantation of the CWR22 prostate cancer xenograft. These new findings strongly imply that XMRV does not circulate in humans, but is only present in the laboratory. Thus, there is no reason to believe that it has any role in the etiology of prostate cancer or other diseases.
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