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Cell. 1992 Nov 13;71(4):663-70.

The reverse transcriptase of hepatitis B virus acts as a protein primer for viral DNA synthesis.

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Institute for Cancer Research, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19111.


Hepatitis B viruses (hepadnaviruses) replicate their DNA genomes by reverse transcription of an RNA intermediate. Efforts to examine the biochemical mechanism for viral DNA synthesis have been hampered by the failure to solubilize the reverse transcriptase from virions and to express the polymerase in heterologous systems in an enzymatically active form. Here, we demonstrate that the polymerase of a hepadnavirus synthesized in an in vitro translation reaction exhibits reverse transcriptase activity. Furthermore, our results show that the polymerase acts as a primer for DNA synthesis and remains covalently linked to nascent DNA, a feature that is not known to exist in any other RNA-directed DNA polymerases. Priming of DNA synthesis requires viral RNA but occurs independently of other viral components. The ability to express the hepadnavirus reverse transcriptase in an enzymatically active form will allow detailed biochemical and functional analyses of this complex enzyme, and may facilitate the identification of inhibitors required for antiviral therapy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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