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C R Biol. 2002 Jan;325(1):17-23.

PrPC has nucleic acid chaperoning properties similar to the nucleocapsid protein of HIV-1.

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Laboretro, unité de virologie humaine, Inserm-ENS U412, ENS de Lyon, 46, allée d'Italie, 69364 Lyon, France.


The function of the cellular prion protein (PrPC) remains obscure. Studies suggest that PrPC functions in several processes including signal transduction and Cu2+ metabolism. PrPC has also been established to bind nucleic acids. Therefore we investigated the properties of PrPC as a putative nucleic acid chaperone. Surprisingly, PrPC possesses all the nucleic acid chaperoning properties previously specific to retroviral nucleocapsid proteins. PrPC appears to be a molecular mimic of NCP7, the nucleocapsid protein of HIV-1. Thus PrPC, like NCP7, chaperones the annealing of tRNA(Lys) to the HIV-1 primer binding site, the initial step of retrovirus replication. PrPC also chaperones the two DNA strand transfers required for production of a complete proviral DNA with LTRs. Concerning the functions of NCP7 during budding, PrPC also mimices NCP7 by dimerizing the HIV-1 genomic RNA. These data are unprecedented because, although many cellular proteins have been identified as nucleic acid chaperones, none have the properties of retroviral nucleocapsid proteins.

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