The Rev protein of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) facilitates the nuclear export of unspliced and partially spliced viral RNAs. In the absence of Rev, these intron-containing HIV-1 RNAs are retained in the nucleus. The basis for nuclear retention is unclear and is an important aspect of Rev regulation. Here we use in situ hybridization and digital imaging microscopy to examine the intranuclear distributions of intron-containing HIV RNAs and to determine their spatial relationships to intranuclear structures. HeLa cells were transfected with an HIV-1 expression vector, and viral transcripts were localized using oligonucleotide probes specific for the unspliced or spliced forms of a particular viral RNA. In the absence of Rev, the unspliced viral RNAs were predominantly nuclear and had two distinct distributions. First, a population of viral transcripts was distributed as approximately 10-20 intranuclear punctate signals. Actinomycin D chase experiments indicate that these signals represent nascent transcripts. A second, stable population of viral transcripts was dispersed throughout the nucleoplasm excluding nucleoli. Rev promoted the export of this stable population of viral RNAs to the cytoplasm in a time-dependent fashion. Significantly, the distributions of neither the nascent nor the stable populations of viral RNAs coincided with intranuclear speckles in which splicing factors are enriched. Using splice-junction-specific probes, splicing of human beta-globin pre-mRNA occurred cotranscriptionally, whereas splicing of HIV-1 pre-mRNA did not. Taken together, our results indicate that the nucleolus and intranuclear speckles are not involved in Rev regulation, and provide further evidence that efficient splicing signals are critical for cotranscriptional splicing.

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