Foamy viruses (FVs) make use of a replication strategy which is unique among retroviruses and shows analogies to hepadnaviruses. The presence of an integrase (IN) and obligate provirus integration distinguish retroviruses from hepadnaviruses. To clarify whether a functional IN is required for FV replication, a mutant in the highly conserved DD35E motif of the active centre was analysed. This mutant was found to be able to express Gag and Pol protein precursors and cleavage products and to generate and deliver cDNA. However, this mutant was replication-deficient. The junctions of individual foamy proviruses with cellular DNA were sequenced. The findings suggest that FV integration is asymmetrical, because the proviruses started with what is believed to be the U3 end of the free linear DNA to generate the conventional TG dinucleotide, while apparently two nucleotides from the U5 end were cleaved to create the complementary CA dinucleotide. Alignment of known FV genome sequences indicated that this mechanism of integration is not restricted to the two FV isolates from which integrates were studied, but appears to be a common feature of this retrovirus subfamily. In conclusion, with respect to the necessity of a functionally active IN for virus replication FVs behave like other retroviruses; their mechanism of integration, however, is probably unique.


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