Sites of retroviral DNA integration: From basic research to clinical applications.

One of the most crucial steps in the life cycle of a retrovirus is the integration of the viral DNA (vDNA) copy of the RNA genome into the genome of an infected host cell. Integration provides for efficient viral gene expression as well as for the segregation of viral genomes to daughter cells upon cell division. Some integrated viruses are not well expressed, and cells latently infected with human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) can resist the action of potent antiretroviral drugs and remain dormant for decades. Intensive research has been dedicated to understanding the catalytic mechanism of integration, as well as the viral and cellular determinants that influence integration site distribution throughout the host genome. In this review, we summarize the evolution of techniques that have been used to recover and map retroviral integration sites, from the early days that first indicated that integration could occur in multiple cellular DNA locations, to current technologies that map upwards of millions of unique integration sites from single in vitro integration reactions or cell culture infections. We further review important insights gained from the use of such mapping techniques, including the monitoring of cell clonal expansion in patients treated with retrovirus-based gene therapy vectors, or patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) on suppressive antiretroviral therapy (ART). These insights span from integrase (IN) enzyme sequence preferences within target DNA (tDNA) at the sites of integration, to the roles of host cellular proteins in mediating global integration distribution, to the potential relationship between genomic location of vDNA integration site and retroviral latency.

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