Structure of the HIV-1 RNA packaging signal

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Science  22 May 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6237, pp. 917-921
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa9266

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Structural signals that direct HIV packaging

During the viral replication cycle of HIV, unspliced dimeric RNA genomes are efficiently packaged into new virions at the host cell membrane. Packaging is directed by a region at the start of the genome, the 5′ leader. The architecture of the 5′ leader remains controversial. Keane et al. developed nuclear magnetic resonance methods to determine the structure of a 155-nucleotide-long region of the 5′ leader that can direct viral packaging. The structure shows how the 5′ leader binds to the HIV protein that directs packaging, how unspliced dimeric genomes are selected for packaging, and how translation is suppressed when the genome dimerizes.

Science, this issue p. 917


The 5′ leader of the HIV-1 genome contains conserved elements that direct selective packaging of the unspliced, dimeric viral RNA into assembling particles. By using a 2H-edited nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) approach, we determined the structure of a 155-nucleotide region of the leader that is independently capable of directing packaging (core encapsidation signal; ΨCES). The RNA adopts an unexpected tandem three-way junction structure, in which residues of the major splice donor and translation initiation sites are sequestered by long-range base pairing and guanosines essential for both packaging and high-affinity binding to the cognate Gag protein are exposed in helical junctions. The structure reveals how translation is attenuated, Gag binding promoted, and unspliced dimeric genomes selected, by the RNA conformer that directs packaging.

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