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Biochemistry. 2014 Apr 29;53(16):2581-93. doi: 10.1021/bi4016692. Epub 2014 Apr 15.

U3 region in the HIV-1 genome adopts a G-quadruplex structure in its RNA and DNA sequence.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Rochester , Rochester, New York 14642, United States.


Genomic regions rich in G residues are prone to adopt G-quadruplex structure. Multiple Sp1-binding motifs arranged in tandem have been suggested to form this structure in promoters of cancer-related genes. Here, we demonstrate that the G-rich proviral DNA sequence of the HIV-1 U3 region, which serves as a promoter of viral transcription, adopts a G-quadruplex structure. The sequence contains three binding elements for transcription factor Sp1, which is involved in the regulation of HIV-1 latency, reactivation, and high-level virus expression. We show that the three Sp1 binding motifs can adopt different forms of G-quadruplex structure and that the Sp1 protein can recognize and bind to its site folded into a G-quadruplex. In addition, a c-kit2 specific antibody, designated hf2, binds to two different G-quadruplexes formed in Sp1 sites. Since U3 is encoded at both viral genomic ends, the G-rich sequence is also present in the RNA genome. We demonstrate that the RNA sequence of U3 forms dimers with characteristics known for intermolecular G-quadruplexes. Together with previous reports showing G-quadruplex dimers in the gag and cPPT regions, these results suggest that integrity of the two viral genomes is maintained through numerous intermolecular G-quadruplexes formed in different RNA genome locations. Reconstituted reverse transcription shows that the potassium-dependent structure formed in U3 RNA facilitates RT template switching, suggesting that the G-quadruplex contributes to recombination in U3.

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