RNA processing and RNA tumor virus origin and evolution

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Science  23 May 1975:
Vol. 188, Issue 4190, pp. 802-811
DOI: 10.1126/science.47650


The results of molecular hybridization experiments with high-molecular-weight RNA isolated from RNA tumor viruses and DNA from normal cells suggest that RNA tumor virus genomes originate from cell genes. Some RNA tumor viruses (here called class 1) appear to have been generated in recent times in that their RNA is closely related in nucleotide sequence to certain cell genes (class 1 genes). A second class of RNA tumor viruses (here called class 2) is more distantly related to genomic information of normal cells. Structural properties of the RNA of RNA tumor viruses lead us to propose that the tumor virus RNA is originated when RNA transcripts of class 1 genes are processed by a mechanism we call "paraprocessing." We postulate that RNA paraprocessing is normally used only at particular times during differentiation and is characterized by the cytoplasmic appearance of high-molecular-weight RNA chains containing terminal polyadenylic acid (200 residues). Paraprocessing of class 1 gene transcripts in committed or differentiated cells is considered to be aberrant in transcription that can lead to the generation of an RNA tumor virus genome. If the paraprocessed class 1 gene transcript codes for a reverse transcriptase, replication of the RNA becomes possible. Transfer of the replicating RNA to a new cell can result in genetic change such that the virus genome mutates, differing from the original progenitor genes. We propose that this genetic change causes class 1 viruses to become class 2. These ideas are applied to evidence concerning the biology of infection of RNA tumor viruses and concerning the involvement of RNA tumor viruses in human cancer. Genetic change can also occur during the origination of an RNA tumor virus genome by repeated reverse transcription and recombination (45) or by genetic alteration of particularly changeable cell genes ("hot spots") (43).