Human T-lymphotropic virus type III (HTLV-III) encodes a trans-acting factor that activates the expression of genes linked to the HTLV-III long terminal repeat. By functional mapping of complementary DNA transcripts of viral messenger RNA's the major functional domain of the gene encoding this factor was localized to a region immediately before the env gene of the virus, a region previously thought to be noncoding. This newly identified gene consists of three exons, and its transcription into messenger RNA involves two splicing events bringing together sequences from the 5' part (287 base pairs), middle (268 base pairs), and 3'part (1258 base pairs) of the HTLV-III genome. A similar messenger RNA with a truncated second exon (70 base pairs) does not encode a trans-acting function. It is proposed that this second messenger RNA is the transcript of a gene (3'-orf) located after the env gene. Messenger RNA's were also identified for the env and gag-pol genes of HTLV-III.

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