Reverse transcription of the retroviral genome is thought to start after virions enter target cells. Purified preparations of human immunodeficiency virus were found to contain virus-specific DNA, detectable by polymerase chain reaction amplification. This DNA resulted from reverse transcription in newly assembled virus particles and not from contamination by cellular DNA, because virions contained a striking excess of early versus late transcripts and because the accumulation of these products was sensitive to 3'-azido-3'-deoxythymidine (zidovudine) treatment of producer cells. A similar observation was made with murine amphotropic retrovirus particles. It is therefore likely that all retroviruses contain partial reverse transcripts
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