The mature cores of all retroviruses contain a major structural protein known as the CA (capsid) protein. Although it appears to form a shell around the ribonucleoprotein complex that contains the viral RNA, its function in viral replication is largely unknown. Little sequence similarity exists between the CA proteins of different retroviruses, except for a region of about 20 amino acids termed the major homology region (MHR). To examine the role of the CA protein in particle assembly and release, mutants of Rous sarcoma virus were created in which segments of CA were deleted or single conserved residues in the MHR were altered. The ability of the deletion mutants to release particles at rates similar to the wild-type protein demonstrated that the CA domain of Gag is not an essential component of the minimal budding machinery. Certain point mutations in the MHR region did block assembly and release in certain cell types, presumably by perturbing the global structure of the Gag precursor. Another group of MHR substitutions produced noninfectious or poorly infectious particles that were normal in their content of gag and pol gene products and vital RNA. The mutants were capable of initiating reverse transcription in vitro; however, the association of CA protein with the core was compromised, as indicated by its sensitivity to extraction with nonionic detergent. Prominent blebs on the virion envelope also indicated a disturbance at the membrane. Finally, an anti-peptide serum directed against MHR was found to react with the uncleaved Gag protein but not with mature CA, suggesting that MHR undergoes a dynamic rearrangement upon liberation from the polyprotein. We conclude that the MHR is involved in the very late steps in maturation of the virion (i.e., ones that occur after budding is initiated) and is essential for proper function of the core upon entry into a new host cell.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Insect Science