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J Biol Chem. 2012 Apr 20;287(17):14280-8. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M112.348482. Epub 2012 Mar 1.

Frequent incorporation of ribonucleotides during HIV-1 reverse transcription and their attenuated repair in macrophages.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York 14642, USA.


Macrophages are well known long-lived reservoirs of HIV-1. Unlike activated CD4(+) T cells, this nondividing HIV-1 target cell type contains a very low level of the deoxynucleoside triphosphates (dNTPs) required for proviral DNA synthesis whereas the ribonucleoside triphosphate (rNTP) levels remain in the millimolar range, resulting in an extremely low dNTP/rNTP ratio. Biochemical simulations demonstrate that HIV-1 reverse transcriptase (RT) efficiently incorporates ribonucleoside monophosphates (rNMPs) during DNA synthesis at this ratio, predicting frequent rNMP incorporation by the virus specifically in macrophages. Indeed, HIV-1 RT incorporates rNMPs at a remarkable rate of 1/146 nucleotides during macrophage infection. This greatly exceeds known rates for cellular replicative polymerases. In contrast, little or no rNMP incorporation is detected in CD4(+) T cells. Repair of these rNMP lesions is also substantially delayed in macrophages compared with CD4(+) T cells. Single rNMPs embedded in a DNA template are known to induce cellular DNA polymerase pausing, which mechanistically contributes to mutation synthesis. Indeed, we also observed that embedded rNMPs in a dsDNA template also induce HIV-1 RT DNA synthesis pausing. Moreover, unrepaired rNMPs incorporated into the provirus during HIV-1 reverse transcription would be generally mutagenic as was shown in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Most importantly, the frequent incorporation of rNMPs makes them an ideal candidate for development of a new class of HIV RT inhibitors.

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