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Do they just pass through the membrane? Is there some specific transporter or mechanism? Does it vary?

I've seen pictures if retroviruses outside the cell but no details

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Retroviruses, like many other enveloped viruses, exit the cell by a process called budding. The virus uses the host machinery for producing transmembrane proteins to enrich areas of the host cell membrane in viral transmembrane proteins, and co-opts a host process for releasing vesicles. You can see budding illustrated in the context of the life cycle of HIV in this figure from Murray Medical Microbiology.

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The process has been studied in some detail in HIV and other retroviruses.

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  • $\begingroup$ They would have to exit the bud as well and the bud would have to accept the virus which is unlikely. $\endgroup$
    – D J Sims
    Nov 21, 2023 at 7:56

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