Structural basis of genomic RNA (gRNA) dimerization and packaging determinants of mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV)

Suriya J. Aktar, Valérie Vivet-Boudou, Lizna M. Ali, Ayesha Jabeen, Rawan M. Kalloush, Delphine Richer, Farah Mustafa, Roland Marquet, Tahir A. Rizvi

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27 Citations (Scopus)


Background: One of the hallmarks of retroviral life cycle is the efficient and specific packaging of two copies of retroviral gRNA in the form of a non-covalent RNA dimer by the assembling virions. It is becoming increasingly clear that the process of dimerization is closely linked with gRNA packaging, and in some retroviruses, the latter depends on the former. Earlier mutational analysis of the 5' end of the MMTV genome indicated that MMTV gRNA packaging determinants comprise sequences both within the 5' untranslated region (5' UTR) and the beginning of gag. Results: The RNA secondary structure of MMTV gRNA packaging sequences was elucidated employing selective 2'hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension (SHAPE). SHAPE analyses revealed the presence of a U5/Gag long-range interaction (U5/Gag LRI), not predicted by minimum free-energy structure predictions that potentially stabilizes the global structure of this region. Structure conservation along with base-pair covariations between different strains of MMTV further supported the SHAPE-validated model. The 5' region of the MMTV gRNA contains multiple palindromic (pal) sequences that could initiate intermolecular interaction during RNA dimerization. In vitro RNA dimerization, SHAPE analysis, and structure prediction approaches on a series of pal mutants revealed that MMTV RNA utilizes a palindromic point of contact to initiate intermolecular interactions between two gRNAs, leading to dimerization. This contact point resides within pal II (5' CGGCCG 3') at the 5' UTR and contains a canonical "GC" dyad and therefore likely constitutes the MMTV RNA dimerization initiation site (DIS). Further analyses of these pal mutants employing in vivo genetic approaches indicate that pal II, as well as pal sequences located in the primer binding site (PBS) are both required for efficient MMTV gRNA packaging. Conclusions: Employing structural prediction, biochemical, and genetic approaches, we show that pal II functions as a primary point of contact between two MMTV RNAs, leading to gRNA dimerization and its subsequent encapsidation into the assembling virus particles. The results presented here enhance our understanding of the MMTV gRNA dimerization and packaging processes and the role of structural motifs with respect to RNA-RNA and possibly RNA-protein interactions that might be taking place during MMTV life cycle.

Original languageEnglish
Article number96
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Nov 14 2014


  • Dimerization Initiation Site (DIS)
  • Long-range interaction (LRI)
  • Mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV)
  • RNA dimerization
  • RNA intermolecular interactions
  • RNA packaging
  • RNA packaging signal
  • palindromic (pal) sequence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Virology
  • Infectious Diseases


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