The foamy viruses (FVs) are a genus of complex retroviruses that has recently been found to possess several novel molecular features. There is increasing interest in the development of FVs as novel vectors for gene delivery. As there are remarkably few published studies of FV proteins, these recent findings prompted us to predict the structural features of FV glycoproteins with the aid of computer programs. We analysed all seven available FV Env sequences, a greater number of sequences than in previously published analyses. The relative rates of change for FV structural proteins were Pol < Env < Gag in increasing order, which differs from all other retroviruses. We determined that this difference is primarily caused by a higher relative rate of change for FV Gag proteins. We analysed the functional domains of FV glycoproteins and found that their structural organization was generally similar to other retroviruses. Putative structures were identified for the signal peptide, cleavage site, fusion peptide, membrane-spanning domain and the unique endoplasmic reticulum retrieval signal. Based on the predicted secondary structure of the transmembrane glycoprotein (TM) subunit, gp47, we also identified a unique prolonged central 'sheets and loops' region as the dominant feature of an unusually lengthy TM ectodomain. This lengthy central domain was flanked at each end by alpha-helices. The predictions reported here will stimulate and facilitate experimental approaches to better understand the structure and function of FV glycoproteins, and should assist in the planning and development of FV vectors.


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