The evolutionary interplay between exogenous and endogenous sheep betaretroviruses.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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Retroviruses must integrate their genome into the host DNA as a necessary step of their replication cycle. Normally, retroviruses integrate into somatic cells and are transmitted, from infected to uninfected hosts, as “exogenous” retroviruses. On rare occasions, they can infect germ line cells and become part of the host genome as “endogenous” retroviruses (ERVs), which are transmitted vertically to the offspring and inherited as Mendelian genes. During evolution, most ERVs have accumulated mutations that rendered them defective and unable to produce infectious viral particles. Some ERVs, however, have maintained intact open reading frames for some of their genes, and have been co-opted by the host as they fulfil important biological functions. Sheep betaretroviruses represent a unique model to study the complex evolutionary interplay between host and pathogen in natural settings. In infected sheep, the exogenous and pathogenic Jaagsiekte sheep retrovirus (JSRV) co-exists with the highly related endogenous JSRVs (enJSRVs). The sheep genome harbours at least twenty-seven enJSRV loci and, most likely, the process of endogenization is still occurring.
During evolution, one of these enJSRV loci, enJS56A1, has acquired a defective
and transdominant Gag polyprotein that blocks the late replication steps of
related retroviruses, by a mechanism known as JSRV late restriction (JLR).
Interestingly, enJSRV-26, a provirus that integrated in the sheep germ line less
than two hundred years ago, possesses the unique ability to escape JLR. In this
thesis, the molecular basis of JLR escape was investigated. The main
determinant of JLR escape was identified in the signal peptide of enJSRV-26
envelope protein (SP26). A single amino acid substitution in SP26 was found to
be responsible for altering its intracellular localization as well as its function as
a post-transcriptional regulator of viral gene expression. Interestingly,
interference assays demonstrated that enJSRV-26 relies on the presence of the
functional signal peptide of enJS56A1 envelope protein (SP56) in order to escape
JLR. In addition, the ratio between enJSRV-26 and enJS56A1 Gag polyproteins
was found to be critical to elude JLR. Finally, sequence analyses revealed that
the domestic sheep has acquired, by genome amplification, several copies of the
enJS56A1 provirus, reinforcing the hypothesis that this locus has provided an
evolutionary advantage to the host. This study unveils critical aspects of JLR
that were previously unknown, and provides new insights on the molecular mechanisms governing the interplay between endogenous and exogenous sheep
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