Structural and functional analysis of the avian leukemia virus constitutive transport element.
The observation that cells restrict the nuclear export of incompletely spliced transcripts via the canonical nuclear mRNA export pathway implies that all retroviruses should have evolved a way to direct the unspliced form of their genomic RNA into an alternate export pathway. While the Crm1-dependent pathway used by complex retroviruses to export incompletely spliced viral transcripts is now fairly well understood, less is known about how simple retroviruses accomplish this task. However, the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus (MPMV) has been shown to encode a structured RNA sequence, termed the constitutive transport element (CTE), that recruits a cellular RNA export factor termed Tap. Here we demonstrate that a CTE previously proposed to be present in the avian sarcoma/leukemia (ASV/ALV) family of retroviruses indeed functions as a potent RNA export signal. We have mapped single- and double-stranded regions present in the ASV/ALV CTE in vitro and report that this CTE is predicted to fold into a structure bearing three distinct RNA stem-loops. However, only the central stem-loop is critical for CTE function and this 69-nt structure is, in fact, sufficient when present as a dimer. While the ASV/ALV CTE is shown to function independently of Crm1, as also previously reported for the MPMV CTE, it lacks any evident sequence homology to the highly conserved MPMV CTE sequence. Together, these data define the secondary structure and biological activity of an avian CTE sequence that may access a novel nuclear RNA export pathway.
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