Characterization of the MMTV-encoded Rem protein
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Mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV) is a betaretrovirus that causes mammary tumors in mice. MMTV is the only known complex murine retrovirus and encodes Rem, an HIV-1 Rev-like protein. Rem is a 301-amino-acid (33 kDa) protein that is cotranslationally targeted to the ER, where the first 98 amino acids constitute the signal peptide (SP). The SP is cleaved and retrotranslocated to the cytoplasm prior to nuclear entry. In this thesis, the results show that the presence of a leucine at position 71 allows more efficient cleavage of SP and increases Rem activity. Further, in Rem-transfected cells, the majority of SP appears in the nuclear fraction, consistent with fluorescent microscopy data. The C-terminal fragment of Rem (RemCT) is glycosylated in the ER and, although glycosylation sites are present outside the SP, mutations of both these sites abolish SP activity in a reporter assay. Indirect evidence suggests that unglycosylated RemCT is degraded by the proteasome, whereas glycosylated RemCT is likely secreted out of the cell. A variant of MMTV (TBLV) that lacks functional Sag and RemCT has been prepared and will be studied in mice to elucidate the role of RemCT in vivo. Development of an antibody to RemCT will allow tracking of the protein in virus-producing cells. Although there are many other similarities between complex retroviruses like HIV-1 and MMTV, current evidence suggests that Rem lacks an HIV Tat-like transactivator function.