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J Virol. 2013 Oct;87(20):11173-86. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01392-13. Epub 2013 Aug 7.

Limited nucleotide changes in the Rev response element (RRE) during HIV-1 infection alter overall Rev-RRE activity and Rev multimerization.

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Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology and The Myles H. Thaler Center for AIDS and Human Retrovirus Research, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA.


HIV-1 Rev and the Rev response element (RRE) enable a critical step in the viral replication cycle by facilitating the nuclear export of intron-containing mRNAs, yet their activities have rarely been analyzed in natural infections. This study characterized their genetic and functional variation in a small cohort of HIV-infected individuals. Multiple Rev and RRE sequences were obtained using single-genome sequencing (SGS) of plasma samples collected within 6 months after seroconversion and at a later time. This allowed the identification of cognate sequences that were linked in vivo in the same viral genome and acted together as a functional unit. Phylogenetic analyses of these sequences indicated that 4/5 infections were founded by a single transmission event. Rev and RRE variants from each time point were subjected to functional analysis as both cognate pairs and as individual components. While a range of Rev-RRE activities were seen, the activity of cognate pairs from a single time point clustered to a discrete level, which was termed the set point. In 3/5 patients, this set point changed significantly over the time period studied. In all patients, RRE activity was more sensitive to sequence variation than Rev activity and acted as the primary driver of the cognate set point. Selected patient RREs were also shown to have differences in Rev multimerization using gel shift binding assays. Thus, rather than acting as a simple on-off switch or maintaining a constant level of activity throughout infection, the Rev-RRE system can fluctuate, presumably to control replication.

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