Three pol gene products have been identified in avian retroviral particles: the full-length 95-kilodalton (kDa) beta chain of reverse transcriptase and two proteolytic cleavage products of beta, a 63-kDa reverse transcriptase alpha chain derived from the amino terminus of beta and a 32-kDa (pp32) endonuclease from its carboxy terminus. By using molecularly cloned retroviral DNA and synthetic oligonucleotides to introduce initiator ATGs and codons corresponding to the authentic N termini, we constructed two bacterial-expression clones; one clone contains the entire pol gene, and the other contains the region encoding the pp32 domain. A 99-kDa protein was synthesized in Escherichia coli by the full-length clone, and a 36-kDa protein was synthesized by the endonuclease domain clone. The recombinant proteins exceeded the size of both the mature viral beta chain and the pp32, respectively, by approximately 4 kDa. These larger sizes, however, are consistent with predictions from the DNA sequence of the pol gene. Processing of the recombinant pol proteins was examined by using p15 protease purified from virus particles and antisera directed against synthetic peptides corresponding to three domains in pol. Proteolytic digestion of the 99-kDa product with p15 produced a 63-kDa protein that comigrated on polyacrylamide gels with the alpha chain of reverse transciptase and a 36-kDa fragment that comigrated with the endonuclease domain product. Further digestion of the 36-kDa protein yielded a 32-kDa protein that comigrated with viral pp32 endonuclease. Thus, we concluded that two p15-sensitive sites exist in pol. Cleavage at the previously identified site produces alpha, and cleavage at the newly discovered site removes approximately 4 kDa from the C terminus of the primary protein product. Since the 36-kDa protein was also detected in protein isolated from virus particles, it seems probable that processing at the C-terminal site is a normal step in the production of mature beta and pp32 endonuclease products
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