Genetic reassortment and patch repair by recombination in retroviruses

J Biomed Sci. Mar-Apr 2000;7(2):77-99. doi: 10.1007/BF02256615.


Retroviral particles contain a diploid RNA genome which serves as template for the synthesis of double-stranded DNA in a complex process guided by virus-encoded reverse transcriptase. The dimeric nature of the genome allows the proceeding polymerase to switch templates during copying of the copackaged RNA molecules, leading to the generation of recombinant proviruses that harbor genetic information derived from both parental RNAs. Template switching abilities of reverse transcriptase facilitate the development of mosaic retroviruses with altered functional properties and thereby contribute to the restoration and evolution of retroviruses facing altering selective forces of their environment. This review focuses on the genetic patchwork of retroviruses and how mixing of sequence patches by recombination may lead to repair in terms of re-established replication and facilitate increased viral fitness, enhanced pathogenic potential, and altered virus tropisms. Endogenous retroelements represent an affluent source of functional viral sequences which may hitchhike with virions and serve as sequence donors in patch repair. We describe here the involvement of endogenous viruses in genetic reassortment and patch repair and review important examples derived from cell culture and animal studies. Moreover, we discuss how the patch repair phenomenon may challenge both safe usage of retrovirus-based gene vehicles in human gene therapy and the use of animal organs as xenografts in humans. Finally, the ongoing mixing of distinct human immunodeficiency virus strains and its implications for antiviral treatment is discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA, Viral / biosynthesis
  • DNA, Viral / genetics*
  • Endogenous Retroviruses / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetic Therapy / adverse effects
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mosaicism / genetics
  • Proviruses / genetics
  • RNA / genetics
  • RNA, Double-Stranded / biosynthesis
  • RNA, Double-Stranded / genetics*
  • RNA, Viral / genetics*
  • RNA-Directed DNA Polymerase / physiology
  • Recombination, Genetic*
  • Retroviridae / genetics*
  • Retroviridae Infections / genetics
  • Retroviridae Infections / transmission
  • Retroviridae Infections / virology
  • Risk
  • Safety
  • Templates, Genetic
  • Transplantation, Heterologous / adverse effects
  • Virion / metabolism
  • Virus Replication / genetics*


  • DNA, Viral
  • RNA primers
  • RNA, Double-Stranded
  • RNA, Viral
  • RNA
  • RNA-Directed DNA Polymerase