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Retrovirology January 1, 2021; 18 (1): 20.

A novel class III endogenous retrovirus with a class I envelope gene in African frogs with an intact genome and developmentally regulated transcripts in Xenopus tropicalis.

Yedavalli VRK , Patil A , Parrish J , Kozak CA .

BACKGROUND: Retroviruses exist as exogenous infectious agents and as endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) integrated into host chromosomes. Such endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) are grouped into three classes roughly corresponding to the seven genera of infectious retroviruses: class I (gamma-, epsilonretroviruses), class II (alpha-, beta-, delta-, lentiretroviruses) and class III (spumaretroviruses). Some ERVs have counterparts among the known infectious retroviruses, while others represent paleovirological relics of extinct or undiscovered retroviruses. RESULTS: Here we identify an intact ERV in the Anuran amphibian, Xenopus tropicalis. XtERV-S has open reading frames (ORFs) for gag, pol (polymerase) and env (envelope) genes, with a small additional ORF in pol and a serine tRNA primer binding site. It has unusual features and domain relationships to known retroviruses. Analyses based on phylogeny and functional motifs establish that XtERV-S gag and pol genes are related to the ancient env-less class III ERV-L family but the surface subunit of env is unrelated to known retroviruses while its transmembrane subunit is class I-like. LTR constructs show transcriptional activity, and XtERV-S transcripts are detected in embryos after the maternal to zygotic mid-blastula transition and before the late tailbud stage. Tagged Gag protein shows typical subcellular localization. The presence of ORFs in all three protein-coding regions along with identical 5'' and 3'' LTRs (long terminal repeats) indicate this is a very recent germline acquisition. There are older, full-length, nonorthologous, defective copies in Xenopus laevis and the distantly related African bullfrog, Pyxicephalus adspersus. Additional older, internally deleted copies in X. tropicalis carry a 300 bp LTR substitution. CONCLUSIONS: XtERV-S represents a genera-spanning member of the largely env-less class III ERV that has ancient and modern copies in Anurans. This provirus has an env ORF with a surface subunit unrelated to known retroviruses and a transmembrane subunit related to class I gammaretroviruses in sequence and organization, and is expressed in early embryogenesis. Additional XtERV-S-related but defective copies are present in X. tropicalis and other African frog taxa. XtERV-S is an unusual class III ERV variant, and it may represent an important transitional retroviral form that has been spreading in African frogs for tens of millions of years.

PubMed ID: 34261506
Article link: Retrovirology
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Species referenced: Xenopus tropicalis Xenopus laevis

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