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J Mol Biol. 1999 Mar 19;287(1):59-75.

Binding properties of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 nucleocapsid protein p7 to a model RNA: elucidation of the structural determinants for function.

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AIDS Vaccine Program, SAIC Frederick, National Cancer Institute-Frederick Cancer Research and Development Center, Frederick, MD, 21702-1201, USA.


HIV-1 nucleocapsid protein (NCp7) is a double zinc-fingered protein that has been traditionally implicated in viral RNA recognition and packaging, in addition to its tight association with genomic RNA and tRNA primer within the virion nucleocapsid. The availability of large quantities of viral or recombinant wild-type NCp7 and mutant p7 has made possible the assignment of the different roles that structural motifs within the protein play during RNA binding. At low ionic strength binding to the homopolymeric fluorescent RNA, poly(epsilonA), is electrostatically driven and four sodium ions are displaced. Arg7 in the flanking N-terminal region, Lys20 and Lys26 in the first zinc finger and one positively charged residue (attributed to Lys41) in the second zinc finger are involved in electrostatic contacts with RNA. The p7 zinc fingers do not function independently but concomitantly. The first zinc finger (both isolated or in the context of the full-length protein) has a more prominent electrostatic interaction than the second one. The second zinc finger dominates the non-electrostatic stabilization of the binding to RNA due to stacking of its Trp residue with nucleic acid bases. Mutations in the highly conserved retroviral Zn-coordinating residues (CCHC) to steroid hormone receptor (CCCC) or transcription factor (CCHH) metal cluster types do not affect RNA binding. In spite of the limited impact in RNA binding affinity in vitro or RNA packaging in vivo that such mutations or structural alterations impart, they impair or abolish virus infectivity. It is likely that such an effect stems from the involvement of NCp7 in crucial steps of the virus life cycle other than RNA binding.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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