An atomic model of HIV-1 capsid-SP1 reveals structures regulating assembly and maturation

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Science  29 Jul 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6298, pp. 506-508
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf9620

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Maturation and inhibition of HIV-1

HIV-1 undergoes a two-step assembly process controlled largely by a single region of its Gag protein. Schur et al. determined a complete atomic model for this region within an assembled Gag protein lattice using cryo-electron tomography together with subtomogram averaging. Amino acids from different parts of multiple Gag molecules come together to form an intricate network of interactions that drive HIV-1 assembly. The final step of maturation into the infectious HIV-1 virus is controlled by structural changes in Gag that alter the accessibility of the final cleavage site to the viral protease.

Science, this issue p. 506


Immature HIV-1 assembles at and buds from the plasma membrane before proteolytic cleavage of the viral Gag polyprotein induces structural maturation. Maturation can be blocked by maturation inhibitors (MIs), thereby abolishing infectivity. The CA (capsid) and SP1 (spacer peptide 1) region of Gag is the key regulator of assembly and maturation and is the target of MIs. We applied optimized cryo-electron tomography and subtomogram averaging to resolve this region within assembled immature HIV-1 particles at 3.9 angstrom resolution and built an atomic model. The structure reveals a network of intra- and intermolecular interactions mediating immature HIV-1 assembly. The proteolytic cleavage site between CA and SP1 is inaccessible to protease. We suggest that MIs prevent CA-SP1 cleavage by stabilizing the structure, and MI resistance develops by destabilizing CA-SP1.

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