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J Virol. 2000 Mar;74(5):2313-22.

Most retroviral recombinations occur during minus-strand DNA synthesis.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology and Markey Cancer Center, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky 40536-0096, USA.


Retroviral RNA molecules are plus, or sense in polarity, equivalent to mRNA. During reverse transcription, the first strand of the DNA molecule synthesized is minus-strand DNA. After the minus strand is polymerized, the plus-strand DNA is synthesized using the minus-strand DNA as the template. In this study, a helper cell line that contains two proviruses with two different mutated gfp genes was constructed. Recombination between the two frameshift mutant genes resulted in a functional gfp. If recombination occurs during minus-strand DNA synthesis, the plus-strand DNA will also contain the functional sequence. After the cell divides, all of its offspring will be green. However, if recombination occurs during plus-strand DNA synthesis, then only the plus-strand DNA will contain the wild-type gfp sequence and the minus-strand DNA will still carry the frameshift mutation. The double-stranded DNA containing this mismatch was subsequently integrated into the host chromosomal DNA of D17 cells, which were unable to repair the majority of mismatches within the retroviral double-strand DNA. After the cell divided, one daughter cell contained the wild-type gfp sequence and the other daughter cell contained the frameshift mutation in the gfp sequence. Under fluorescence microscopy, half the cells in the offspring were green and the other half of the cells were colorless or clear. Thus, we demonstrated that more than 98%, if not all, retroviral recombinations occurred during minus-strand DNA synthesis.

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