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J Virol. 2003 May;77(10):5985-96.

The RNA subunit of telomerase is encoded by Marek's disease virus.

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Laboratoire de Virologie et Barrière d'Espèce, INRA, Centre de Recherches de Tours, Unité de Recherche 086, 37380 Nouzilly, France.


Marek's disease virus (MDV) is a herpesvirus of chickens that induces T lymphomas and tumors within 4 to 5 weeks of infection. Although the ability of MDV to induce tumors was demonstrated many years ago and although a number of viral oncogenic proteins have been identified, the mechanism by which the MDV is implicated in tumorigenesis is still unknown. We report the identification of a virus-encoded RNA telomerase subunit (vTR) within the genome of MDV. This gene is found in the genomic DNA of the oncogenic MDV strains, whereas it is not carried by the nononcogenic MDV strains. The vTR sequence exhibits 88% sequence identity with the chicken gene (cTR). Our functional analysis suggests that this telomerase RNA can reconstitute telomerase activity in a heterologous system (the knockout murine TR(-/-) cell line) by interacting with the telomerase protein component encoded by the host cell. We have also demonstrated that the vTR promoter region is efficient whatever the species of cell line considered and that vTR is expressed in vivo in peripheral blood leukocytes from chickens infected with the oncogenic MDV-RB1B and the vaccine MDV-Rispens strains. The functionality of the vTR gene and the potential implication of vTR in the oncogenesis induced by MDV is discussed.

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