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J Mol Biol. 2011 Apr 15;407(5):661-72. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2011.02.015. Epub 2011 Feb 12.

The reverse transcriptase encoded by the non-LTR retrotransposon R2 is as error-prone as that encoded by HIV-1.

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Department of Biology, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627-0211, USA.


Reverse transcriptases (RTs) encoded by a wide range of mobile retroelements have had a major impact on the structure and function of genomes. Among the most abundant elements in eukaryotes are the non long terminal repeat (LTR) retrotransposons. Here we compare the dNTP concentration requirements and error rates of the RT encoded by the non-LTR retrotransposon R2 of Bombyx mori with the well-characterized RTs of retroviruses. Surprisingly, R2 was found to have properties more similar to those of lentiviral RTs, such as human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1), than to those of oncoretroviral RTs, such as murine leukemia virus. Like HIV-1 RT, R2 RT was able to synthesize DNA at low dNTP concentrations, suggesting that R2 is able to retrotranspose in nondividing cells. R2 RT also showed levels of misincorporation in biased dNTP pools and replication error rates in M13 lacZα forward mutation assays, similar to HIV-1 RT. Most of the R2 base substitutions in the forward mutation assay were caused by the misincorporation of dTMP. Analogous to HIV-1, the high error rate of R2 RT appears to be a result of its ability to extend mismatches once generated. We suggest that the low fidelity of R2 RT is a by-product of the flexibility of its active site/dNTP binding pocket required for the target-primed reverse transcription reaction used by R2 for retrotransposition. Finally, we discuss that in spite of the high R2 RT error rate, the long-term nucleotide substitution rate for R2 is not significantly above that associated with cellular DNA replication, based on the frequency of R2 retrotranspositions determined in natural populations.

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