Template switching rates of Moloney murine leukemia virus reverse transcriptase mutants were tested using a retroviral vector-based direct-repeat deletion assay. The reverse transcriptase mutants contained alterations in residues that modeling of substrates into the catalytic core had suggested might affect interactions with primer and/or template strands. As assessed by the frequency of functional lacZ gene generation from vectors in which lacZ was disrupted by insertion of a sequence duplication, the frequency of template switching varied more than threefold among fully replication-competent mutants. Some mutants displayed deletion rates that were lower and others displayed rates that were higher than that of wild-type virus. Replication for the mutants with the most significant alterations in template switching frequencies was similar to that of the wild type. These data suggest that reverse transcriptase template switching rates can be altered significantly without destroying normal replication functions.
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