Diverse retroviruses have been shown to package host SRP (7SL) RNA. However, little is known about the viral determinants of 7SL RNA packaging. Here we demonstrate that 7SL RNA is more selectively packaged into HIV-1 virions than are other abundant Pol-III-transcribed RNAs, including Y RNAs, 7SK RNA, U6 snRNA and cellular mRNAs. The majority of the virion-packaged 7SL RNAs were associated with the viral core structures and could be reverse-transcribed in HIV-1 virions and in virus-infected cells. Viral Pol proteins influenced tRNAlys,3 packaging but had little influence on virion packaging of 7SL RNA. The N-terminal basic region and the basic linker region of HIV-1 NCp7 were found to be important for efficient 7SL RNA packaging. Although Alu RNAs are derived from 7SL RNA and share the Alu RNA domain with 7SL RNA, the packaging of Alu RNAs was at least 50-fold less efficient than that of 7SL RNA. Thus, 7SL RNAs are selectively packaged into HIV-1 virions through mechanisms distinct from those for viral genomic RNA or primer tRNAlys,3. Virion packaging of both human cytidine deaminase APOBEC3G and cellular 7SL RNA are mapped to the same regions in HIV-1 NC domain.
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