Assembly of type C retroviruses such as Moloney murine leukemia virus (M-MuLV) ordinarily occurs at the plasma membranes of infected cells and absolutely requires the particle core precursor protein, Pr65gag. Previously we have shown that Pr65gag is membrane associated and that at least a portion of intracellular Pr65gag protein appears to be routed to the plasma membrane by a vesicular transport pathway. Here we show that intracellular particle formation can occur in M-MuLV-infected cells. M-MuLV immature particles were observed by electron microscopy budding into and within rough endoplasmic reticulum, Golgi, and vacuolar compartments. Biochemical fractionation studies indicated that intracellular Pr65gag was present in nonionic detergent-resistant complexes of greater than 150S. Additionally, viral RNA and polymerase functions appeared to be associated with intracellular particles, as were Gag-beta-galactosidase fusion proteins which have the capacity to be incorporated into virions. Immature intracellular particles in postnuclear lysates could be proteolytically processed in vitro to mature forms, while extracellular immature M-MuLV particles remained immature as long as 10 h during incubations. The occurrence of M-MuLV-derived intracellular particles demonstrates that Pr65gag can associate with intracellular membranes and indicates that if a plasma membrane Pr65gag receptor exists, it also can be found in other membrane compartments. These results support the hypothesis that intracellular particles may serve as a virus reservoir during in vivo infections
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