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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 May 18;107(20):9358-63. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1000304107. Epub 2010 Apr 30.

Directionality of nucleocytoplasmic transport of the retroviral gag protein depends on sequential binding of karyopherins and viral RNA.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, Hershey, PA 17033, USA.


Retroviral Gag polyproteins coopt host factors to traffic from cytosolic ribosomes to the plasma membrane, where virions are released. Before membrane transport, the multidomain Gag protein of Rous sarcoma virus (RSV) undergoes importin-mediated nuclear import and CRM1-dependent nuclear export, an intrinsic step in the assembly pathway. Transient nuclear trafficking of Gag is required for efficient viral RNA (vRNA) encapsidation, suggesting that Gag:vRNA binding might occur in the nucleus. Here, we show that Gag is imported into the nucleus through direct interactions of the Gag NC domain with importin-alpha (imp-alpha) and the MA domain with importin-11 (imp-11). The vRNA packaging signal, known as psi, inhibited imp-alpha binding to Gag, indicating that the NC domain does not bind to imp-alpha and vRNA simultaneously. Unexpectedly, vRNA binding also prevented the association of imp-11 with both the MA domain alone and with Gag, suggesting that the MA domain may bind to the vRNA genome. In contrast, direct binding of Gag to the nuclear export factor CRM1, via the CRM1-RanGTP heterodimer, was stimulated by psiRNA. These findings suggest a model whereby the genomic vRNA serves as a switch to regulate the ordered association of host import/export factors that mediate Gag nucleocytoplasmic trafficking for virion assembly. The Gag:vRNA interaction appears to serve multiple critical roles in assembly: specific selection of the vRNA genome for packaging, stimulating the formation of Gag dimers, and triggering export of viral ribonucleoprotein complexes from the nucleus.

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