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BMC Evol Biol. 2005 Oct 7;5:53.

The key role for local base order in the generation of multiple forms of China HIV-1 B'/C intersubtype recombinants.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Jiangsu University School of Medical Technology, Zhenjiang, Jiangsu 212001, China.



HIV-1 is a retrovirus with high rate of recombination. Increasing experimental studies in vitro indicated that local hairpin structure of RNA was associated with recombination by favoring RT pausing and promoting strand transfer. A method to estimate the potential to form stem-loop structure by calculating the folding of randomized sequence difference (FORS-D) has been used to investigate the relationship between secondary structure and evolutionary pressure in some genome. It showed that gene regions under strong positive "Darwinian" selection were associated with positive FORS-D values. In the present study, the sequences of HIV-1 subtypes B' and C, both of which represent the parent strains of CRF07_BC, CRF08_BC and China URFs, were selected to investigate the relationship between natural recombination and secondary structure by calculating the FORS-D values.


The apparent higher negative FORS-D value region appeared in the gag-pol gene region (nucleotide 0-3000) of HIV-1 subtypes B' and C. Thirteen (86.7%) of 15 mosaic fragments and 17 (81%) of 21 recombination breakpoints occurred in this higher negative FORS-D region. This strongly suggested that natural recombination did not occur randomly throughout the HIV genome, and that there might be preferred (or hot) regions or sites for recombination. The FORS-D analysis of breakpoints showed that most breakpoints of recombinants were located in regions with higher negative FORS-D values (P = 0.0053), and appeared to have a higher negative average FORS-D value than the whole genome (P = 0.0007). The regression analysis also indicated that FORS-D values correlated negatively with breakpoint overlap.


High negative FORS-D values represent high, base order determined stem-loop potentials and influence mainly the formation of stem-loop structures. Therefore, the present results suggested for the first time that occurrence of natural recombination was associated with high base order-determined stem-loop potential, and that local base order might play a key role in the initiation of natural recombination by favoring the formation of stable stem-loop structures.

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