The ubiquitous virus JCV is the etiologic agent of the human brain disease progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy. Although infection usually occurs early in life and the virus can remain latent in human tissues, including brain, little Information is available regarding its replication. It is known that DNA replication of primate polyomaviruses is dependent upon the synthesis of T antigen and the subsequent interactions of this protein with cellular factors and the viral origin of replication. We constructed chimeric genomes between JCV and SV40, two genetically similar viruses with distinct biologies, in which segments of the T antigen coding region and the replication origin were exchanged. Because the engineering of these genomes created a defect in the structural protein VP1, their DNA replicating activities could be compared without the complication of secondary infection of adjacent cells and amplification of the replication signal. The ability of the JCV-SV40 hybrid T antigens to initiate replication from the two viral origins in primate cells was investigated. A region of the JCV T antigen that includes the DNA binding and zinc finger domains was found to be responsible for the failure of JCV T antigen to interact productively with the SV40 origin. In addition, the ability to replicate in monkey cells was limited to constructs expressing T antigens which contained the carboxy-terminal host range domain of SV40.
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