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J Virol. 2010 Jan;84(2):898-906. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01602-09. Epub 2009 Nov 4.

Secondary structure of the mature ex virio Moloney murine leukemia virus genomic RNA dimerization domain.

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Department of Chemistry, University of North Carolina, A008 Kenan Labs, CB-3290, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3290, USA.


Retroviral genomes are dimeric, comprised of two sense-strand RNAs linked at their 5' ends by noncovalent base pairing and tertiary interactions. Viral maturation involves large-scale morphological changes in viral proteins and in genomic RNA dimer structures to yield infectious virions. Structural studies have largely focused on simplified in vitro models of genomic RNA dimers even though the relationship between these models and authentic viral RNA is unknown. We evaluate the secondary structure of the minimal dimerization domain in genomes isolated from Moloney murine leukemia virions using a quantitative and single nucleotide resolution RNA structure analysis technology (selective 2'-hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension, or SHAPE). Results are consistent with an architecture in which the RNA dimer is stabilized by four primary interactions involving two sets of intermolecular base pairs and two loop-loop interactions. The dimerization domain can independently direct its own folding since heating and refolding reproduce the same structure as visualized in genomic RNA isolated from virions. Authentic ex virio RNA has a SHAPE reactivity profile similar to that of a simplified transcript dimer generated in vitro, with the important exception of a region that appears to form a compact stem-loop only in the virion-isolated RNA. Finally, we analyze the conformational changes that accompany folding of monomers into dimers in vitro. These experiments support well-defined structural models for an authentic dimerization domain and also emphasize that many features of mature genomic RNA dimers can be reproduced in vitro using properly designed, simplified RNAs.

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