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J Biol Chem. 1993 Nov 5;268(31):23585-92.

Nuclease activities of Moloney murine leukemia virus reverse transcriptase. Mutants with altered substrate specificities.

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  • 1Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, New York 10032.


RNases H are traditionally thought to degrade RNA only in RNA-DNA hybrid form. We found that the wild-type Moloney murine leukemia virus (M-MuLV) reverse transcriptase (RT) was capable of degrading RNA in RNA-RNA duplexes as well as in RNA-DNA hybrids, as assayed by in situ gel techniques. Escherichia coli RNase H does not degrade the RNA-RNA duplex in this assay, while E. coli RNase III, a double-strand-specific ribonuclease, does. The apparent specific activity of M-MuLV RT on RNA-RNA duplexes is similar to that on RNA-DNA hybrids. Neither the DNA polymerase domain nor the RNase H domain of RT expressed individually exhibited this RNA-RNA activity. We have generated a series of mutations in the RNase H domain of M-MuLV RT, expressed the mutant enzymes in E. coli, and assayed these mutants for various activities. All RTs were as active as the wild type in the oligo(dT):poly(rA) DNA polymerase assay, and many retained both nuclease activities. Two enzymes with mutations at the carboxyl terminus of the RNase H domain retained RNA-DNA activity, but not RNA-RNA activity. Another mutant enzyme showed the opposite phenotype, retaining RNA-RNA, but not RNA-DNA, nuclease activity. Thus, we were able to genetically separate the two activities. These results may be helpful in defining enzyme-substrate interactions.

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