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The Gammaretroviral p12 protein has multiple domains that function during the early stages of replication

Darren J Wight1, Virginie C Boucherit1, Mirella Nader1, David J Allen13, Ian A Taylor2 and Kate N Bishop1*

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Virology, MRC National Institute for Medical Research, The Ridgeway, Mill Hill, London NW7 1AA, UK

2 Division of Molecular Structure, MRC National Institute for Medical Research, The Ridgeway, Mill Hill, London, NW7 1AA, UK

3 Current address: Virus Reference Department, Microbiology Services - Colindale, Health Protection Agency, 61 Colindale Avenue, London, NW9 5EQ, UK

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Retrovirology 2012, 9:83  doi:10.1186/1742-4690-9-83

Published: 4 October 2012



The Moloney murine leukaemia virus (Mo-MLV) gag gene encodes three main structural proteins, matrix, capsid and nucleocapsid and a protein called p12. In addition to its role during the late stages of infection, p12 has an essential, but undefined, function during early post-entry events. As these stages of retroviral infection remain poorly understood, we set out to investigate the function of p12.


Examination of the infectivity of Mo-MLV virus-like particles containing a mixture of wild type and mutant p12 revealed that the N- and C-terminal regions of p12 are sequentially acting domains, both required for p12 function, and that the N-terminal activity precedes the C-terminal activity in the viral life cycle. By creating a panel of p12 mutants in other gammaretroviruses, we showed that these domains are conserved in this retroviral genus. We also undertook a detailed mutational analysis of each domain, identifying residues essential for function. These data show that different regions of the N-terminal domain are necessary for infectivity in different gammaretroviruses, in stark contrast to the C-terminal domain where the same region is essential for all viruses. Moreover, chimeras between the p12 proteins of Mo-MLV and gibbon ape leukaemia virus revealed that the C-terminal domains are interchangeable whereas the N-terminal domains are not. Finally, we identified potential functions for each domain. We observed that particles with defects in the N-terminus of p12 were unable to abrogate restriction factors, implying that their cores were impaired. We further showed that defects in the C-terminal domain of p12 could be overcome by introducing a chromatin binding motif into the protein.


Based on these data, we propose a model for p12 function where the N-terminus of p12 interacts with, and stabilizes, the viral core, allowing the C-terminus of p12 to tether the preintegration complex to host chromatin during mitosis, facilitating integration.

Retrovirus; MLV; p12; Post-entry events; Chromatin binding