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      Opening of the TAR hairpin in the HIV-1 genome causes aberrant RNA dimerization and packaging


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          The TAR hairpin is present at both the 5′ and 3′ end of the HIV-1 RNA genome. The 5′ element binds the viral Tat protein and is essential for Tat-mediated activation of transcription. We recently observed that complete TAR deletion is allowed in the context of an HIV-1 variant that does not depend on this Tat-TAR axis for transcription. Mutations that open the 5′ stem-loop structure did however affect the leader RNA conformation and resulted in a severe replication defect. In this study, we set out to analyze which step of the HIV-1 replication cycle is affected by this conformational change of the leader RNA.


          We demonstrate that opening the 5′ TAR structure through a deletion in either side of the stem region caused aberrant dimerization and reduced packaging of the unspliced viral RNA genome. In contrast, truncation of the TAR hairpin through deletions in both sides of the stem did not affect RNA dimer formation and packaging.


          These results demonstrate that, although the TAR hairpin is not essential for RNA dimerization and packaging, mutations in TAR can significantly affect these processes through misfolding of the relevant RNA signals.

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          Most cited references61

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          A novel CDK9-associated C-type cyclin interacts directly with HIV-1 Tat and mediates its high-affinity, loop-specific binding to TAR RNA.

          The HIV-1 Tat protein regulates transcription elongation through binding to the viral TAR RNA stem-loop structure. We have isolated a novel 87 kDa cyclin C-related protein (cyclin T) that interacts specifically with the transactivation domain of Tat. Cyclin T is a partner for CDK9, an RNAPII transcription elongation factor. Remarkably, the interaction of Tat with cyclin T strongly enhances the affinity and specificity of the Tat:TAR RNA interaction, and confers a requirement for sequences in the loop of TAR that are not recognized by Tat alone. Moreover, overexpression of human cyclin T rescues Tat activity in nonpermissive rodent cells. We propose that Tat directs cyclin T-CDK9 to RNAPII through cooperative binding to TAR RNA.
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            NMR detection of structures in the HIV-1 5'-leader RNA that regulate genome packaging.

            The 5'-leader of the HIV-1 genome regulates multiple functions during viral replication via mechanisms that have yet to be established. We developed a nuclear magnetic resonance approach that enabled direct detection of structural elements within the intact leader (712-nucleotide dimer) that are critical for genome packaging. Residues spanning the gag start codon (AUG) form a hairpin in the monomeric leader and base pair with residues of the unique-5' region (U5) in the dimer. U5:AUG formation promotes dimerization by displacing and exposing a dimer-promoting hairpin and enhances binding by the nucleocapsid (NC) protein, which is the cognate domain of the viral Gag polyprotein that directs packaging. Our findings support a packaging mechanism in which translation, dimerization, NC binding, and packaging are regulated by a common RNA structural switch.
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              Structural determinants and mechanism of HIV-1 genome packaging.

              Like all retroviruses, the human immunodeficiency virus selectively packages two copies of its unspliced RNA genome, both of which are utilized for strand-transfer-mediated recombination during reverse transcription-a process that enables rapid evolution under environmental and chemotherapeutic pressures. The viral RNA appears to be selected for packaging as a dimer, and there is evidence that dimerization and packaging are mechanistically coupled. Both processes are mediated by interactions between the nucleocapsid domains of a small number of assembling viral Gag polyproteins and RNA elements within the 5'-untranslated region of the genome. A number of secondary structures have been predicted for regions of the genome that are responsible for packaging, and high-resolution structures have been determined for a few small RNA fragments and protein-RNA complexes. However, major questions regarding the RNA structures (and potentially the structural changes) that are responsible for dimeric genome selection remain unanswered. Here, we review efforts that have been made to identify the molecular determinants and mechanism of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 genome packaging. Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

                Author and article information

                BioMed Central
                24 July 2012
                : 9
                : 59
                [1 ]Laboratory of Experimental Virology, Department of Medical Microbiology, Center for Infection and Immunity Amsterdam (CINIMA), Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Meibergdreef 15, 1105 AZ, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
                Copyright ©2012 Das et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                : 27 March 2012
                : 4 July 2012

                Microbiology & Virology
                hiv-1,rna structure,tar,dimerization,packaging
                Microbiology & Virology
                hiv-1, rna structure, tar, dimerization, packaging


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