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PLoS Pathog. 2013 Mar;9(3):e1003249. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1003249. Epub 2013 Mar 21.

Dimeric RNA recognition regulates HIV-1 genome packaging.

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  • 1HIV Drug Resistance Program, National Cancer Institute, Frederick, Maryland, United States of America.

Abstract

How retroviruses regulate the amount of RNA genome packaged into each virion has remained a long-standing question. Our previous study showed that most HIV-1 particles contain two copies of viral RNA, indicating that the number of genomes packaged is tightly regulated. In this report, we examine the mechanism that controls the number of RNA genomes encapsidated into HIV-1 particles. We hypothesize that HIV-1 regulates genome packaging by either the mass or copy number of the viral RNA. These two distinct mechanisms predict different outcomes when the genome size deviates significantly from that of wild type. Regulation by RNA mass would result in multiple copies of a small genome or one copy of a large genome being packaged, whereas regulation by copy number would result in two copies of a genome being packaged independent of size. To distinguish between these two hypotheses, we examined the packaging of viral RNA that was larger (≈17 kb) or smaller (≈3 kb) than that of wild-type HIV-1 (≈9 kb) and found that most particles packaged two copies of the viral genome regardless of whether they were 17 kb or 3 kb. Therefore, HIV-1 regulates RNA genome encapsidation not by the mass of RNA but by packaging two copies of RNA. To further explore the mechanism that governs this regulation, we examined the packaging of viral RNAs containing two packaging signals that can form intermolecular dimers or intramolecular dimers (self-dimers) and found that one self-dimer is packaged. Therefore, HIV-1 recognizes one dimeric RNA instead of two copies of RNA. Our findings reveal that dimeric RNA recognition is the key mechanism that regulates HIV-1 genome encapsidation and provide insights into a critical step in the generation of infectious viruses.

PMID:
23555259
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC3605237
Free PMC Article
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