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Mapping of nucleocapsid residues important for HIV-1 genomic RNA dimerization and packaging.

Kafaie J., Song R., Abrahamyan L., Mouland A.J., Laughrea M.

Retroviral genomic RNA (gRNA) dimerization appears essential for viral infectivity, and the nucleocapsid protein (NC) of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) facilitates HIV-1 gRNA dimerization. To identify the relevant and dispensable positions of NC, 34 of its 55 residues were mutated, individually or in small groups, in a panel of 40 HIV-1 mutants prepared by site-directed mutagenesis. It was found that the amino-terminus, the proximal zinc finger, the linker, and the distal zinc finger of NC each contributed roughly equally to efficient HIV-1 gRNA dimerization. The N-terminal and linker segments appeared to play predominantly electrostatic and steric roles, respectively. Mutating the hydrophobic patch of either zinc finger, or substituting alanines for their glycine doublet, was as disabling as deleting the corresponding finger. Replacing the CysX(2)CysX(4)HisX(4)Cys motif of either finger by CysX(2)CysX(4)CysX(4)Cys or CysX(2)CysX(4)HisX(4)His, interchanging the zinc fingers or, replacing one zinc finger by a copy of the other one, had generally intermediate effects; among these mutations, the His23-->Cys substitution in the N-terminal zinc finger had the mildest effect. The charge of NC could be increased or decreased by up to 18%, that of the linker could be reduced by 75% or increased by 50%, and one or two electric charges could be added or subtracted from either zinc finger, without affecting gRNA dimerization. Shortening, lengthening, or making hydrophobic the linker was as disabling as deleting the N-terminal or the C-terminal zinc finger, but a neutral and polar linker was innocuous. The present work multiplies by 4 and by 33 the number of retroviral and lentiviral NC mutations known to inhibit gRNA dimerization, respectively. It shows the first evidence that gRNA dimerization can be inhibited by: 1) mutations in the N-terminus or the linker of retroviral NC; 2) mutations in the proximal zinc finger of lentiviral NC; 3) mutations in the hydrophobic patch or the conserved glycines of the proximal or the distal retroviral zinc finger. Some NC mutations impaired gRNA dimerization more than mutations inactivating the viral protease, indicating that gRNA dimerization may be stimulated by the NC component of the Gag polyprotein. Most, but not all, mutations inhibited gRNA packaging; some had a strong effect on virus assembly or stability.

Virology 375:592-610(2008) [PubMed] [Europe PMC]