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J Virol. 2012 Aug;86(15):7934-42. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00856-12. Epub 2012 May 16.

cis-Acting determinants of 7SL RNA packaging by HIV-1.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.


The host noncoding RNA 7SL is highly enriched in the virions of retroviruses. We examined the regions of 7SL that mediate packaging by HIV-1. Both the Alu domain and the S domain were sufficient to mediate specific packaging when expressed separately as truncations of 7SL. However, while the Alu domain competed with endogenous 7SL for packaging in proportion to Gag, the S domain was packaged additively, implying that the Alu and S domains are packaged via separate mechanisms and that the Alu domain is packaged by the same mechanism as endogenous 7SL. Further truncations of the Alu domain or mutation of the Alu domain helix 5c region significantly reduced packaging efficiency, implicating helix 5c as critical for packaging, reinforcing the finding that 7SL packaging is highly selective, and confirming that 7SL is not passively acquired. Surprisingly, when the Alu domain was mutated so that it no longer contained a binding site for the SRP protein heterodimer SRP9/14, it was no longer packaged in a competitive manner but instead was packaged additively with endogenous 7SL. These data support a model in which 7SL RNA is packaged via interactions between Gag and a 7SL RNA structure that exists transiently at a discrete stage of SRP biogenesis. Our data further indicate that a secondary "additive" pathway exists that can result in the packaging of certain 7SL derivatives in molar excess to endogenously packaged 7SL.

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