The 5′ untranslated region (UTR) of retroviruses contain structured replication motifs that impose barriers to efficient ribosome scanning. Two RNA structural motifs that facilitate efficient translation initiation despite a complex 5′ UTR are internal ribosome entry site (IRES) and 5′ proximal post-transcriptional control element (PCE). Here, stringent RNA and protein analyses determined the 5′ UTR of spleen necrosis virus (SNV), reticuloendotheliosis virus A (REV-A) and human T-cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1) exhibit PCE activity, but not IRES activity. Assessment of SNV translation initiation in the natural context of the provirus determined that SNV is reliant on a cap-dependent initiation mechanism. Experiments with siRNAs identified that REV-A and HTLV-1 PCE modulate post-transcriptional gene expression through interaction with host RNA helicase A (RHA). Analysis of hybrid SNV/HTLV-1 proviruses determined SNV PCE facilitates Rex/Rex responsive element-independent Gag production and interaction with RHA is necessary. Ribosomal profile analyses determined that RHA is necessary for polysome association of HTLV-1 gag and provide direct evidence that RHA is necessary for efficient HTLV-1 replication. We conclude that PCE/RHA is an important translation regulatory axis of multiple lymphotropic retroviruses. We speculate divergent retroviruses have evolved a convergent RNA-protein interaction to modulate translation of their highly structured mRNA.
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We thank Mr. Tim Vojt for expert figure preparation, Dr. Andrew Dangel for plasmid construction, Dr. Wendy Maury for EIAV plasmids, Dr. Lawrence Mathes for FeLV plasmid and Mr. Parul Gulati for biostatistics assistance. This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (P01CA16058 and P30CA100730). Funding to pay the Open Access publication charge was provided by OHIOlink.