Template-independent DNA synthesis activity associated with the reverse transcriptase of the long terminal repeat retrotransposon Tf1

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Reverse transcriptases (RTs) possess a non-templated addition (NTA) activity while synthesizing DNA with blunt-ended DNA primer/templates. Interestingly, the RT of the long terminal repeat retrotransposon Tf1 has an NTA activity that is substantially higher than that of HIV-1 or murine leukemia virus RTs. By performing steady state kinetics, we found that the differences between the NTA activities of Tf1 and HIV-1 RTs can be explained by the substantially lower KM value for the incoming dNTP of Tf1 RT (while the differences between the apparent kcat values of these two RTs are relatively small). Furthermore, the KM values, calculated for both RTs with the same dNTP, are much lower for the template-dependent synthesis (TDS) than those of NTA. However, TDS of HIV-1 RT is higher than that of Tf1 RT. The overall relative order of the apparent kcat/KM values for dATP is: HIV-1 RT (TDS) > Tf1 RT (TDS) >> Tf1 RT (NTA) > HIV-1 RT (NTA). Under the employed conditions, Tf1 RT can add up to seven nucleotides to the blunt-ended substrate, while the other RTs add mostly a single nucleotide. The NTA activity of Tf1 RT is restricted to DNA primers. Furthermore, the NTA activity of Tf1 and HIV-1 RTs is suppressed by ATP, as it competes with the incoming dATP (although ATP is not incorporated by the NTA activity of the RTs). The unusually high NTA activity of Tf1 RT can explain why, after completing cDNA synthesis, the in vivo generated Tf1 cDNA has relatively long extra sequences beyond the highly conserved CA at its 3′-ends.

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