X-ray crystal structures of native HIV-1 capsid protein reveal conformational variability

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Science  03 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6243, pp. 99-103
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa5936

Retroviral capsids in their native form

Capsid proteins of retroviruses form protective lattices around viral RNA molecules. The precise molecular details of how individual, full-length capsid proteins assemble to shield the viral genome; however, are not well understood. Obal et al. and Gres et al. now report high resolution crystal structures of the full length capsid proteins from Bovine Leukemia Virus and HIV-1, respectively. The two studies complement each other to reveal the dynamic nature of capsid protein assembly and of how individual capsid proteins interact in the lattice. The findings may have relevance for drug design.

Science, this issue p. 95; see also p. 99


The detailed molecular interactions between native HIV-1 capsid protein (CA) hexamers that shield the viral genome and proteins have been elusive. We report crystal structures describing interactions between CA monomers related by sixfold symmetry within hexamers (intrahexamer) and threefold and twofold symmetry between neighboring hexamers (interhexamer). The structures describe how CA builds hexagonal lattices, the foundation of mature capsids. Lattice structure depends on an adaptable hydration layer modulating interactions among CA molecules. Disruption of this layer alters interhexamer interfaces, highlighting an inherent structural variability. A CA-targeting antiviral affects capsid stability by binding across CA molecules and subtly altering interhexamer interfaces remote to the ligand-binding site. Inherent structural plasticity, hydration layer rearrangement, and effector binding affect capsid stability and have functional implications for the retroviral life cycle.

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