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PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e51534. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051534. Epub 2012 Dec 7.

MoMuLV and HIV-1 nucleocapsid proteins have a common role in genomic RNA packaging but different in late reverse transcription.

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UMR5236 CNRS, UM1,UM2, CPBS, Montpellier, France.


Retroviral nucleocapsid proteins harbor nucleic acid chaperoning activities that mostly rely on the N-terminal basic residues and the CCHC zinc finger motif. Such chaperoning is essential for virus replication, notably for genomic RNA selection and packaging in virions, and for reverse transcription of genomic RNA into DNA. Recent data revealed that HIV-1 nucleocapsid restricts reverse transcription during virus assembly--a process called late reverse transcription--suggesting a regulation between RNA packaging and late reverse transcription. Indeed, mutating the HIV-1 nucleocapsid basic residues or the two zinc fingers caused a reduction in RNA incorporated and an increase in newly made viral DNA in the mutant virions. MoMuLV nucleocapsid has an N-terminal basic region similar to HIV-1 nucleocapsid but a unique zinc finger. This prompted us to investigate whether the N-terminal basic residues and the zinc finger of MoMuLV and HIV-1 nucleocapsids play a similar role in genomic RNA packaging and late reverse transcription. To this end, we analyzed the genomic RNA and viral DNA contents of virions produced by cells transfected with MoMuLV molecular clones where the zinc finger was mutated or completely deleted or with a deletion of the N-terminal basic residues of nucleocapsid. All mutant virions showed a strong defect in genomic RNA content indicating that the basic residues and zinc finger are important for genomic RNA packaging. In contrast to HIV-1 nucleocapsid-mutants, the level of viral DNA in mutant MoMuLV virions was only slightly increased. These results confirm that the N-terminal basic residues and zinc finger of MoMuLV nucleocapsid are critical for genomic RNA packaging but, in contrast to HIV-1 nucleocapsid, they most probably do not play a role in the control of late reverse transcription. In addition, these results suggest that virus formation and late reverse transcription proceed according to distinct mechanisms for MuLV and HIV-1.

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