Project Details


Abstract Retroviruses are positive-sense, single-stranded RNA viruses that cause cancers and severe immunodeficiency diseases in animals and humans, including human immunodeficiency virus. For over a century, Rous sarcoma virus (RSV), which causes cancer in domestic fowl, has served as a powerful model system to dissect the molecular basis of retroviral replication, including retrovirus assembly. Gag, the major structural protein of retroviruses, orchestrates the assembly of virus particles that bud from the plasma membrane of infected cells. To initiate particle assembly, Gag selectively binds unspliced viral RNA as the source of genomic RNA in virions. This proposal focuses on the mechanism by which Gag selects genomic RNA, addressing fundamental, unanswered questions in the field: (i) where in the cell does the initial contact between Gag and viral RNA occur; (ii) how does Gag selectively recruit unspliced viral RNA for packaging when it comprises only ~1% of the total RNA in an infected cell; and (iii) what are the properties of Gag-viral RNA complexes that promote transport through the cell to the plasma membrane for particle release? Because virus particles bud from the plasma membrane, it was originally thought that initial Gag-genomic RNA interactions occurred in the cytoplasm. Our laboratory discovered that RSV Gag undergoes nuclear trafficking, which is required for efficient genomic viral RNA packaging. This finding raised the possibility that Gag binds genomic RNA in the nucleus, which challenges the dogma for how retroviruses package their genomes. Our imaging and biophysical studies have revealed that the RSV Gag protein forms discrete nuclear, cytoplasmic, and plasma membrane foci that have properties of biological condensates, which have recently been shown to be important in regulating cell biology processes and virus-host interactions. We have observed that the Gag nuclear foci colocalize with unspliced viral RNA, suggesting that RSV Gag initially binds genomic RNA in the nucleus. In Aim 1, we will determine whether RSV Gag binds genomic RNAs at transcription sites using super-resolution live cell imaging, deep sequencing, single molecule fluorescence imaging, and CRISPR-based approaches. In Aim 2, we will use biophysical approaches to examine whether Gag-genomic RNA complexes form biological condensates that adopt properties of membrane-less organelles and undergo liquid-liquid phase separation. We will test the hypothesis that Gag-genomic RNA condensates remain tightly packed as they cross the nuclear envelope and traffic through the cytoplasm to the plasma membrane, where virus particles are assembled. Together, these experiments will move the field forward with new insights into how retroviruses select their RNA genomes and transport them to the plasma membrane for budding.
Effective start/end date8/20/206/30/24


  • National Institute of General Medical Sciences: $428,085.00


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