Within the family of Retroviridae
, foamy viruses (FVs) are unique and unconventional with respect to many aspects in their molecular biology, including assembly and release of enveloped viral particles. Both components of the minimal assembly and release machinery, Gag and Env, display significant differences in their molecular structures and functions compared to the other retroviruses. This led to the placement of FVs into a separate subfamily, the Spumaretrovirinae
. Here, we describe the molecular differences in FV Gag and Env, as well as Pol, which is translated as a separate protein and not in an orthoretroviral manner as a Gag-Pol fusion protein. This feature further complicates FV assembly since a specialized Pol encapsidation strategy via a tripartite Gag-genome–Pol complex is used. We try to relate the different features and specific interaction patterns of the FV Gag, Pol, and Env proteins in order to develop a comprehensive and dynamic picture of particle assembly and release, but also other features that are indirectly affected. Since FVs are at the root of the retrovirus tree, we aim at dissecting the unique/specialized features from those shared among the Spuma-
Such analyses may shed light on the evolution and characteristics of virus envelopment since related viruses within the Ortervirales
, for instance LTR retrotransposons, are characterized by different levels of envelopment, thus affecting the capacity for intercellular transmission.
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