- Current retroviral replication models propose that during (+) strand synthesis, the initial (-) strand tRNA primer is partially replicated to reproduce the 18 nt primer-binding site (PBS). Subsequent removal of the tRNA primer from the (-) strand template exposes the PBS, which anneals to complementary sequences on a DNA acceptor template to enable (+) strand transfer. We used model templates composed of primed (-) strand DNA covalently linked with post-transcriptionally modified tRNA(3)(lys) along with natural sequence human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) acceptor DNA to study the generation of the (+) strand strong stop intermediate and the subsequent (+) strand transfer reaction. The rate of formation of the (+) strand transfer reaction products was modestly increased (threefold) by inclusion of nucleocapsid protein, suggesting an ancillary role for this protein in this stage of retroviral replication. In addition to the well-known stop site opposite G59 of the tRNA primer, we detected two additional stop sites opposite psi55 and at A38. Kinetic analysis showed that only the intermediates formed by stops opposite G59 and psi55 were active in the subsequent (+) strand transfer reaction. The surprising discovery of the longer, viable (+) strand interaction intermediate prompted us to survey retroviral sequences for a region complementary to the additional donor DNA nucleotides involved in this over-extension. Indeed, complementary sequences that could support this over-extension were found. A strong consensus sequence is immediately adjacent to and downstream of the PBS in lentiviruses and spumaviruses. This consensus sequence was not found in other genera of retroviruses. We have named this element the "primer over-extension sequence" (POS), and propose that it provides a complementary sequence for strand transfer reactions proceeding from intermediates that extend beyond the standard 18 nt complement of the PBS.