A retrovirus is an RNA virus that is replicated in a host cell via the enzyme reverse transcriptase to produce DNA from its RNA genome. The DNA is then incorporated into the host's genome by an integrase enzyme. The virus thereafter replicates as part of the host cell's DNA. Retroviruses are enveloped viruses that belong to the viral family Retroviridae.
A special variant of retroviri are endogenous retroviri which are integrated into the genome of the host and inherited across generations.
The virus itself stores its nucleic acid in the form of a +mRNA (including the 5'cap and 3'PolyA inside the virion) genome and serves as a means of delivery of that genome into cells it targets as an obligate parasite, and constitutes the infection. Once in the host's cell, the RNA strands undergo reverse transcription in the cytoplasm and are integrated into the host's genome, at which point the retroviral DNA is referred to as a provirus. It is difficult to detect the virus until it has infected the host.
Simply, DNA is usually transcribed into RNA, and RNA is translated into protein. However, retroviruses function differently - their RNA is reverse-transcribed into DNA, which is integrated into the host cell's genome (when it becomes a provirus), and then undergoes the usual transcription and translational processes to express the genes carried by the virus. Therefore, the order of steps from a retroviral gene to a retroviral protein is: RNA ➝ DNA ➝ RNA ➝ Protein.
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