Polintons, virophages and transpovirons: a tangled web linking viruses, transposons and immunity.Curr Opin Virol. 2017 08; 25:7-15.CO
Virophages are satellite DNA viruses that depend for their replication on giant viruses of the family Mimiviridae. An evolutionary relationship exists between the virophages and Polintons, large self-synthesizing transposons that are wide spread in the genomes of diverse eukaryotes. Most of the Polintons encode homologs of major and minor icosahedral virus capsid proteins and accordingly are predicted to form virions. Additionally, metagenome analysis has led to the discovery of an expansive family of Polinton-like viruses (PLV) that are more distantly related to bona fide Polintons and virophages. Another group of giant virus parasites includes small, linear, double-stranded DNA elements called transpovirons. Recent in-depth comparative genomic analysis has yielded evidence of the origin of the PLV and the transpovirons from Polintons. Integration of virophage genomes into genomes of both giant viruses and protists has been demonstrated. Furthermore, in an experimental coinfection system that consisted of a protist host, a giant virus and an associated virophage, the virophage integrated into the host genome and, after activation of its expression by a superinfecting giant virus, served as an agent of adaptive immunity. There is a striking analogy between this mechanism and the CRISPR-Cas system of prokaryotic adaptive immunity. Taken together, these findings show that Polintons, PLV, virophages and transpovirons form a dynamic network of integrating mobile genetic elements that contribute to the cellular antivirus defense and host-virus coevolution.