Cryo-EM structures and atomic model of the HIV-1 strand transfer complex intasome

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Science  06 Jan 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6320, pp. 89-92
DOI: 10.1126/science.aah5163

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High-resolution insights into the intasome

An essential step in the life cycle of lentiviruses such as HIV-1 is when viral DNA integrates into the host genome, establishing a permanent infection of the host cell. The viral integrase enzyme catalyzes this process and is a major drug target. During viral integration, integrase binds the ends of viral DNA, forming a higher-order structure called the intasome. Passos et al. and Ballandras-Colas et al. used cryo—electron microscopy to solve the structures of the intasomes from HIV-1 and maedi-visna virus (ovine lentivirus), respectively. These structures reveal how integrase self-associates to form a functional intasome and help resolve previous conflicting models of intasome assembly.

Science, this issue p. 89, p. 93


Like all retroviruses, HIV-1 irreversibly inserts a viral DNA (vDNA) copy of its RNA genome into host target DNA (tDNA). The intasome, a higher-order nucleoprotein complex composed of viral integrase (IN) and the ends of linear vDNA, mediates integration. Productive integration into host chromatin results in the formation of the strand transfer complex (STC) containing catalytically joined vDNA and tDNA. HIV-1 intasomes have been refractory to high-resolution structural studies. We used a soluble IN fusion protein to facilitate structural studies, through which we present a high-resolution cryo–electron microscopy (cryo-EM) structure of the core tetrameric HIV-1 STC and a higher-order form that adopts carboxyl-terminal domain rearrangements. The distinct STC structures highlight how HIV-1 can use the common retroviral intasome core architecture to accommodate different IN domain modules for assembly.

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