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Acta Biochim Pol. 2001;48(2):391-407.

How RNA viruses exchange their genetic material.

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Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry, Polish Academy of Sciences, Poznań.


One of the most unusual features of RNA viruses is their enormous genetic variability. Among the different processes contributing to the continuous generation of new viral variants RNA recombination is of special importance. This process has been observed for human, animal, plant and bacterial viruses. The collected data reveal a great susceptibility of RNA viruses to recombination. They also indicate that genetic RNA recombination (especially the nonhomologous one) is a major factor responsible for the emergence of new viral strains or species. Although the formation and accumulation of viral recombinants was observed in numerous RNA viruses, the molecular basis of this phenomenon was studied in only a few viral species. Among them, brome mosaic virus (BMV), a model (+)RNA virus offers the best opportunities to investigate various aspects of genetic RNA recombination in vivo. Unlike any other, the BMV-based system enables homologous and nonhomologous recombination studies at both the protein and RNA levels. As a consequence, BMV is the virus for which the structural requirements for genetic RNA recombination have been most precisely established. Nevertheless, the previously proposed model of genetic recombination in BMV still had one weakness: it could not really explain the role of RNA structure in nonhomologous recombination. Recent discoveries concerning the latter problem give us a chance to fill this gap. That is why in this review we present and thoroughly discuss all results concerning nonhomologous recombination in BMV that have been obtained until now.

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