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J Mol Biol. 2006 Dec 1;364(3):496-511. Epub 2006 Aug 30.

Transmission electron microscopy reveals an optimal HIV-1 nucleocapsid aggregation with single-stranded nucleic acids and the mature HIV-1 nucleocapsid protein.

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Laboratoire de Microscopie Mol├ęculaire et Cellulaire, CNRS UMR 8126, Institut Gustave Roussy, 94805 Villejuif, France.


HIV-1 nucleocapsid protein (NCp7) condenses the viral RNA within the mature capsid. In a capsid-free system, NCp7 promotes an efficient mechanism of aggregation with both RNA and DNA. Here, we show an analysis of these macromolecular complexes by dark-field imaging using transmission electron microscopy. Thousands of mature NCp7 proteins co-aggregate with hundreds of single-stranded circular DNA molecules (ssDNA) within minutes, as observed with poly(rA). These co-aggregates are highly stable but dynamic structures, as they dissociate under harsh conditions, and after addition of potent ssDNA or NCp7 competitive ligands. The N-terminal domain and zinc fingers of NCp7 are both required for efficient association. Addition of magnesium slightly increases the avidity of NCp7 for ssDNA, while it strongly inhibits co-aggregation with relaxed circular double-stranded DNA (dsDNA). This DNA selectivity is restricted to mature NCp7, compared to its precursors NCp15 and NCp9. Moreover, for NCp15, the linkage of NCp7 with the Gag C-terminal p6-peptide provokes a deficiency in ssDNA aggregation, but results in DNA spreading similar to prototypical SSB proteins. Finally, this co-aggregation is discussed in a dynamic architectural context with regard to the mature HIV-1 nucleocapsid. On the basis of the present data, we propose that condensation of encapsidated RNA requires the C-terminal processing of NCp. Subsequently, disassembly of the nucleocapsid should be favoured once dsDNA is produced by HIV-1 reverse transcriptase.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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