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J Virol. 1996 Oct;70(10):6723-32.

Role of the DIS hairpin in replication of human immunodeficiency virus type 1.

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  • 1Department of Human Retrovirology, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


The virion-associated genome of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 consists of a noncovalently linked dimer of two identical, unspliced RNA molecules. A hairpin structure within the untranslated leader transcript is postulated to play a role in RNA dimerization through base pairing of the autocomplementary loop sequences. This hairpin motif with the palindromic loop sequence is referred to as the dimer initiation site (DIS), and the type of interaction is termed loop-loop kissing. Detailed phylogenetic analysis of the DIS motifs in different human and simian immunodeficiency viruses revealed conservation of the hairpin structure with a 6-mer palindrome in the loop, despite considerable sequence divergence. This finding supports the loop-loop kissing mechanism. To test this possibility, proviral genomes with mutations in the DIS palindrome were constructed. The appearance of infectious virus upon transfection into SupT1 T cells was delayed for the DIS mutants compared with that obtained by transfection of the wild-type provirus (pLAI), confirming that this RNA motif plays an important role in virus replication. Surprisingly, the RNA genome extracted from mutant virions was found to be fully dimeric and to have a normal thermal stability. These results indicate that the DIS motif is not essential for human immunodeficiency virus type 1 RNA dimerization and suggest that DIS base pairing does not contribute to the stability of the mature RNA dimer. Instead, we measured a reduction in the amount of viral RNA encapsidated in the mutant virions, suggesting a role of the DIS motif in RNA packaging. This result correlates with the idea that the processes of RNA dimerization and packaging are intrinsically linked, and we propose that DIS pairing is a prerequisite for RNA packaging.

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