The temporal appearance and levels of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) tat, rev, nef, env and gag mRNA species were examined using a synchronized, one-step, cell-to-cell HIV-1 infection model involving HUT-78 cells and HIV- 1 persistently infected H3B cells. Individual mRNAs were quantified by RT-PCR using RNA standards transcribed in vitro from cDNA clones. Consistent with an infection that produces high yields of virus, significant levels of env and gag mRNAs were detected in the cytoplasm of infected cells late in the infection cycle. However, at no time after infection did levels of tat, rev and nef mRNA, which encode the regulatory proteins of HIV-1, exceed their levels present in the persistently infected virus donor H3B cells. The absence of early phase induction of these mRNAs is in contrast to what is observed in cell-free HIV-1 infections or in PMA-stimulated HIV-1 chronically infected cell lines. Our results suggest that tat and rev mRNAs are already present in the cytoplasm of the persistently infected virus donor cells at levels sufficient for initiation and establishment of a highly productive infection in HIV-1 fusion-mediated infected cells. Thus, lack of sufficient Tat and Rev proteins is not likely to be the limiting factor for virus production in H3B cells, nor is increased production of these proteins likely to be the cause of the increased virus production seen following cell-to-cell transmission.


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