What is a Retrovirus?

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a retrovirus, which like many other viruses stores its genetic information as RNA rather than as DNA. When the virus enters a targeted host cell, it releases its RNA and an enzyme (reverse transcriptase), and then makes DNA using the viral RNA as a pattern. The viral DNA is then incorporated into the host cell DNA. This reverses the pat-tern of human cells, which copy RNA from the pattern of human DNA (thus, the term "retro" for "backward"). Other RNA viruses, such as polio or measles, do not make DNA copies but simply copy their own RNA.

Each time a host cell divides, it makes a new copy of the integrated viral DNA along with its own genes. The viral DNA can either lie latent (hidden) and do no damage or activate to take over the functions of the cell, causing the cell to produce new viruses. These new viruses are released from the infected cell to invade other cells.

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