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IUBMB Life. 2002 Feb;53(2):107-14.

tRNA(Lys3): the primer tRNA for reverse transcription in HIV-1.

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Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research and McGill AIDS Center, Jewish General Hospital, and Department of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


During the assembly of HIV-1, tRNA(Lys) isoacceptors are selectively packaged into the virion, and one of these, tRNA(Lys3), is annealed to the viral RNA genome where it acts to prime the reverse transcriptase (RT)-catalyzed synthesis of viral DNA. We review herein what is known about the selective packaging and annealing of primer tRNA(Lys3). Current evidence suggests that a complex of two major precursor viral proteins, Pr55gag and Pr160(gag-pol), interact with a tRNA(Lys)/lysyl-tRNA synthetase (LysRS) complex during viral assembly, with Pr55gag interacting with both LysRS and Pr160(gag-pol), and RT sequences within Pr160(gag-pol) binding to tRNA(Lys). LysRS appears to target the tRNA(Lys) isoacceptors for incorporation into HIV-1. In the virion, the 3' terminal 18 nucleotides of tRNA(Lys3) anneals to an 18-nucleotide sequence at the 5' terminal region of viral RNA termed the primer binding site (PBS). Evidence is presented that other regions on the tRNA(Lys3) also anneal with other regions in viral RNA upstream of the PBS, resulting in a destabilized tRNA(Lys3) structure. Both viral and tRNA(Lys3) regions need to be denatured to establish annealing, and the roles of both viral and cellular proteins in this process are discussed.

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