Structural basis for transcriptional start site control of HIV-1 RNA fate

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Science  24 Apr 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6489, pp. 413-417
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaz7959

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One guanosine determines transcript fate

Transcripts of the HIV-1 RNA genome can be either spliced and translated into viral proteins or packaged into new virions as a progeny genome. The path taken depends on whether the transcript contains one guanosine at the 5′ terminus (1G) rather than two or three (2G or 3G). Brown et al. used nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to show that 1G transcripts adopt a dimeric structure that sequesters a terminal cap required for translation and splicing but exposes sites that bind to the HIV-1 Gag protein, which recruits the genome during viral assembly. Conversely, 2G or 3G transcripts have the cap accessible, but Gag-binding sites are sequestered. Therefore, a single guanosine acts as a conformational switch to determine the fate of HIV-1 transcripts.

Science, this issue p. 413


Heterogeneous transcriptional start site usage by HIV-1 produces 5′-capped RNAs beginning with one, two, or three 5′-guanosines (Cap1G, Cap2G, or Cap3G, respectively) that are either selected for packaging as genomes (Cap1G) or retained in cells as translatable messenger RNAs (mRNAs) (Cap2G and Cap3G). To understand how 5′-guanosine number influences fate, we probed the structures of capped HIV-1 leader RNAs by deuterium-edited nuclear magnetic resonance. The Cap1G transcript adopts a dimeric multihairpin structure that sequesters the cap, inhibits interactions with eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E, and resists decapping. The Cap2G and Cap3G transcripts adopt an alternate structure with an elongated central helix, exposed splice donor residues, and an accessible cap. Extensive remodeling, achieved at the energetic cost of a G-C base pair, explains how a single 5′-guanosine modifies the function of a ~9-kilobase HIV-1 transcript.

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