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EMBO J. 1992 Sep;11(9):3413-20.

Hepadnaviral assembly is initiated by polymerase binding to the encapsidation signal in the viral RNA genome.

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  • 1ZMBH, University of Heidelberg, Germany.


Hepadnaviruses, as well as other pararetroviruses, express their pol (P) gene product unfused to the preceding core gene implying that these retroelements have developed a mechanism for initiating assembly and replication that is principally different from the one used by retroviruses and retrotransposons. We have analysed this mechanism for the human hepatitis B virus by using a newly developed, highly sensitive detection method based upon radiolabelling of the P protein at newly introduced target sites for protein kinase A. The results obtained demonstrate that polymerase encapsidation depends on the concomittant encapsidation of the HBV RNA pregenome and that packaging of the viral RNA, in turn, depends on the presence of P protein. Loss of P protein encapsidation by mutations inactivating the HBV RNA encapsidation signal epsilon could be compensated by trans-complementation with recombinant RNA molecules carrying the epsilon sequence. Thus, in contrast to retroviral replication, the interaction of the hepadnaviral P protein and the RNA genome at its packaging signal appears to be crucial for initiating the formation of replication-competent nucleocapsids. Furthermore, RNA control of P protein packaging stringently limits the number of polymerase molecules that can be encapsidated.

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