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Nature. 1990 Apr 5;344(6266):552-5.

Polymerase gene products of hepatitis B viruses are required for genomic RNA packaging as wel as for reverse transcription.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of California Medical Center, San Francisco 94143.


All reactions involving reverse transcription of RNA are segregated from the cytosol within a subviral particle or capsid composed of the major capsid protein, the polymerase and the RNA template. A key step in the formation of these particles is the selective encapsidation of the RNA template. Although an important general feature of the reverse transcription pathway, encapsidation has been carefully studied only for retroviruses. We have now examined the encapsidation reaction in a family of enveloped DNA viruses that replicate by reverse transcription--the hepatitis B viruses (hepadnaviruses). Our results indicate that the hepadnaviral polymerase (P) gene product is required for RNA packaging, and that the encapsidation function of the enzyme can be separated from its DNA polymerase activity. To our knowledge, this is the first description of a role for polymerase gene products in this step of the reverse transcription pathway.

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