A plaque morphology mutant (pm-522) of BK virus (BKV) with a small deletion at map unit 0.72 can readily transform rat 3Y1 cells, but wild-type BKV (wt-501) cannot. We examined the expression of the viral early functions in BKV (wt-501 or pm-522)-infected 3Y1 cells within a 2-week period after infection, before foci of transformed cells became detectable, to know how the difference between the two BKVs occurs. After a high-multiplicity infection, comparable amounts of free viral DNA (forms I and II) were found by Southern blotting analyses to persist in the nuclei of the cells infected with wt and pm BKVs. Whereas the proportion of T antigen-positive cells, as revealed by the indirect immunofluorescence method with complement, remained at a level of 60% in pm BKV infection, the level of T antigen-positive cells in wt BKV infection decreased from the initial 45% to 1% on day 9. The results obtained by the immunoprecipitation analyses of radiolabeled proteins from the infected cells were consistent with the immunofluorescence data. Viral early mRNA was detectable on day 2 and increased on day 9 in pm BKV infection, but in wt BKV infection, the low level of early mRNA detected on day 2 disappeared on day 9. Cell DNA synthesis and cell growth were enhanced more in pm BKV infection than in wt BKV infection. The low level of viral DNA synthesis that occurred in the infected rat cells was more prominent in pm BKV infection than in wt BKV infection. These data indicate that the expression of viral early functions continued much longer in pm BKV-infected rat cells than in wt BKV-infected rat cells, where the expression was probably repressed soon after infection. Continued T antigen production directed by the unintegrated viral genomes appears to be required for efficient transformation of rat cells by BKV
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