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RNA Biol. 2010 Nov-Dec;7(6):744-53. Epub 2010 Nov 1.

Properties and functions of the nucleocapsid protein in virus assembly.

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LaboTEVA, ENS de Lyon, Lyon, France.


HIV-1 nucleocapsid protein (NC) is a small basic protein generated by the cleavage of the Gag structural polyprotein precusor by the viral protease during virus assembly in the infected cell. HIV-1 NC possesses two copies of a highly conserved CCHC zinc finger (ZnF), flanked by basic residues. HIV-1 NC and more generally retroviral NC proteins are nucleic acid binding proteins possessing potent nucleic acid condensing and chaperoning activities. As such NC protein drives critical structural rearrangements of the genomic RNA, notably RNA dimerization in the course of virus assembly and viral nucleic acid annealing required for genomic RNA replication by the viral reverse transcriptase (RT). Here we review the relationships between the 3D structure of HIV-1 NC, notably the central globular domain encompassing the two zinc fingers and the basic linker and NC functions in the early and late phases of virus replication. One of the salient feature of the NC central globular domain is an hydrophobic plateau which appears to orchestrate the NC functions, such as chaperoning the conversion of the genomic RNA into viral DNA by RT during the early phase, and driving the selection and dimerization of the genomic RNA at the initial stage of viral particle assembly. This ensures a bona fide trafficking of early GagNC-genomic RNA complexes to the plasma membrane of the infected cell and ultimately virion formation and budding.

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