The nef reading frame overlaps about 70% of the U3 region of the 3' long terminal repeat (LTR) in primate lentiviruses. We investigated the functional role of these overlapping U3 sequences by analyzing the properties of three mutant forms of the pathogenic SIVmac239 clone. In mutant UScon, 90 of 275 bp in the upstream sequences (US) of U3 were changed in a conservative fashion without changing the predicted nef coding sequence. In mutant USnon, 101 of 275 bp in this region were changed in a nonconservative fashion, again without changing the predicted nef coding sequence. In mutant ΔUS, 275 bp in this region were deleted. Full-size, immunoreactive nef protein was synthesized in cells infected with the UScon and USnon mutants. The USnon and ΔUS mutants replicated with similar kinetics and to similar extents as wild- type, parental SIVmac239 in primary rhesus monkey peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) cultures. The UScon mutant replicated with slightly delayed kinetics in rhesus monkey PBMC cultures. In the CEMx174 cell line, the ΔUS mutant replicated similarly to the wild type, but the UScon and USnon mutants replicated with significantly delayed kinetics. Analysis of LTR-driven chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) activity and the effects of 5-azacytidine on virus replication suggested that the growth defect of the point mutants in CEMx174 cells was due in whole or in part to the introduction of multiple CG methylation sites in proviral DNA. Rhesus monkeys were experimentally infected with the UScon and USnon mutants, and the characteristics of the infection were compared with those of the parental SIVmac239. Analysis of the levels of plasma antigenemia, virus load, and CD4+ cells in PBMC revealed no decreased virulence of the mutant viruses. Analysis of lymph node biopsies taken from animals that received mutant viruses revealed histologic changes and levels of virus expression indistinguishable from those of the wild type. Furthermore, the wild-type behavior of the mutant viruses in rhesus monkeys occurred without any specific reversional events through at least 20 weeks of infection. These results, and the recent results of Kirchhoff et al. (F. Kirchhoff, H. W. Kestler III, and R. C. Desrosiers, J. Virol. 68:2031-2037, 1994), suggest that these upstream sequences in U3 are primarily or exclusively nef coding sequence.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science