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FEBS J. 2009 Aug;276(15):4223-32. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-4658.2009.07130.x. Epub 2009 Jul 3.

Structure of the HIV-1 Rev response element alone and in complex with regulator of virion (Rev) studied by atomic force microscopy.

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Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center (iNANO), University of Aarhus, Denmark.


The interaction of multiple HIV-1 regulator of virion (Rev) proteins with the viral RNA target, the Rev response element (RRE), is critical for nuclear export of incompletely spliced and unspliced viral RNA, and for the onset of the late phase in the viral replication cycle. The heterogeneity of the Rev-RRE complex has made it difficult to study using conventional structural methods. In the present study, atomic force microscopy is applied to directly visualize the tertiary structure of the RRE RNA alone and in complex with Rev proteins. The appearance of the RRE is compatible with the earlier proposed RRE secondary structure in dimensions and overall shape, including a stalk and a head interpreted as stem I, and stem-loops II-V in the secondary structure model, respectively. Atomic force microscopy imaging of the Rev-RRE complex revealed an increased height of the structure both in the stalk and head regions, which is in accordance with a binding model in which Rev binding to a high affinity site in stem IIB triggers oligomerization of Rev proteins through cooperative binding along stem I in RRE. The present study demonstrates that atomic force microscopy comprises a useful technique to study complex biological structures of nucleic acids at high resolution.

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