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J Virol. 2008 Mar;82(6):3090-8. Epub 2007 Dec 26.

RNA structure modulates splicing efficiency at the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 major splice donor.

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Laboratory of Experimental Virology, Department of Medical Microbiology, Center for Infection and Immunity Amsterdam (CINIMA), Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Meibergdreef 15, 1105 AZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


The untranslated leader of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) RNA genome encodes essential sequence and structural motifs that control various replication steps. The 5' splice site or splice donor (SD) is embedded in a semistable hairpin, but the function of this structure is unknown. We stabilized this SD hairpin by creating an additional base pair and demonstrated a severe HIV-1 replication defect. A splicing defect was apparent in RNA analyses of virus-infected cells and cells transfected with appropriate reporter constructs. We selected multiple virus revertants in search for interesting second-site escape pathways. Most revertants acquired an additional mutation that modulated the stability of the mutant SD hairpin. One revertant acquired a single nucleotide change in the upstream DIS hairpin. We demonstrate that a novel SD site is created by this upstream mutation, which obviously reduces the number of leader nucleotides that are included in spliced HIV-1 transcripts. These results suggest a novel role of RNA structure in the regulation of HIV-1 splicing.

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