MINIREVIEW Human Immunodeficiency Virus as a Prototypic Complex Retrovirus


Retroviruses are defined by their ability to reverse the normal flow of genetic information from genomic DNA to mRNA (19). Although not unique (pararetroviruses such as hepatitis B virus also share this property), retroviruses nevertheless form a clearly defined viral genus. Distinguish-ing characteristics include the morphology and composition of retroviral virions and the possession of a single-stranded, positive-sense RNA genome. While retroviruses form a relatively homogeneous viral family, they have customarily been subdivided into three taxonomic groupings primarily on the basis of the in vivo and in vitro consequences of infection (16, 19). The oncovirus subgroup includes retroviruses able to cause neoplastic disease in the infected host animal but also includes some related, relatively benign viruses. The lentivirus subgroup includes retroviruses that cause slow

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