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Open Access Research article

Selection of functional mutations in the U5-IR stem and loop regions of the Rous sarcoma virus genome

Michael Johnson1, Shannon Morris2, Aiping Chen1, Ed Stavnezer3 and Jonathan Leis1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL 60611, USA

2 Internal Medicine, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27514, USA

3 Department of Biochemistry, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA

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BMC Biology 2004, 2:8  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-2-8

Published: 20 May 2004



The 5' end of the Rous sarcoma virus (RSV) RNA around the primer-binding site forms a series of RNA secondary stem/loop structures (U5-IR stem, TψC interaction region, U5-leader stem) that are required for efficient initiation of reverse transcription. The U5-IR stem and loop also encode the U5 integrase (IN) recognition sequence at the level of DNA such that this region has overlapping biological functions in reverse transcription and integration.


We have investigated the ability of RSV to tolerate mutations in and around the U5 IR stem and loop. Through the use of viral libraries with blocks of random sequence, we have screened for functional mutants in vivo, growing the virus libraries in turkey embryo fibroblasts. The library representing the U5-IR stem rapidly selects for clones that maintain the structure of the stem, and is subsequently overtaken by wild type sequence. In contrast, in the library representing the U5-IR loop, wild type sequence is found after five rounds of infection but it does not dominate the virus pool, indicating that the mutant sequences identified are able to replicate at or near wild type levels.


These results indicate that the region of the RNA genome in U5 adjacent to the PBS tolerates much sequence variation even though it is required for multiple biological functions in replication. The in vivo selection method utilized in this study was capable of detecting complex patterns of selection as well as identifying biologically relevant viral mutants.