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J Virol. 1993 Jan;67(1):178-88.

Avian retroviral RNA encapsidation: reexamination of functional 5' RNA sequences and the role of nucleocapsid Cys-His motifs.

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Division of Basic Sciences, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Washington 98104.


RNA packaging signals (psi) from the 5' ends of murine and avian retroviral genomes have previously been shown to direct encapsidation of heterologous mRNA into the retroviral virion. The avian 5' packaging region has now been further characterized, and we have defined a 270-nucleotide sequence, A psi, which is sufficient to direct packaging of heterologous RNA. Identification of the A psi sequence suggests that several retroviral cis-acting sequences contained in psi+ (the primer binding site, the putative dimer linkage sequence, and the splice donor site) are dispensable for specific RNA encapsidation. Subgenomic env mRNA is not efficiently encapsidated into particles, even though the A psi sequence is present in this RNA. In contrast, spliced heterologous psi-containing RNA is packaged into virions as efficiently as unspliced species; thus splicing per se is not responsible for the failure of env mRNA to be encapsidated. We also found that an avian retroviral mutant deleted for both nucleocapsid Cys-His boxes retains the capacity to encapsidate RNA containing psi sequences, although this RNA is unstable and is thus difficult to detect in mature particles. Electron microscopy reveals that virions produced by this mutant lack a condensed core, which may allow the RNA to be accessible to nucleases.

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