NMR Detection of Structures in the HIV-1 5′-Leader RNA That Regulate Genome Packaging

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Science  14 Oct 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6053, pp. 242-245
DOI: 10.1126/science.1210460

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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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