Send to

Choose Destination
Viruses. 2016 Sep 12;8(9). pii: E246. doi: 10.3390/v8090246.

On the Selective Packaging of Genomic RNA by HIV-1.

Author information

HIV Dynamics and Replication Program, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, Frederick, MD 21702, USA.
Genetics Branch, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.
HIV Dynamics and Replication Program, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, Frederick, MD 21702, USA.


Like other retroviruses, human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) selectively packages genomic RNA (gRNA) during virus assembly. However, in the absence of the gRNA, cellular messenger RNAs (mRNAs) are packaged. While the gRNA is selected because of its cis-acting packaging signal, the mechanism of this selection is not understood. The affinity of Gag (the viral structural protein) for cellular RNAs at physiological ionic strength is not much higher than that for the gRNA. However, binding to the gRNA is more salt-resistant, implying that it has a higher non-electrostatic component. We have previously studied the spacer 1 (SP1) region of Gag and showed that it can undergo a concentration-dependent conformational transition. We proposed that this transition represents the first step in assembly, i.e., the conversion of Gag to an assembly-ready state. To explain selective packaging of gRNA, we suggest here that binding of Gag to gRNA, with its high non-electrostatic component, triggers this conversion more readily than binding to other RNAs; thus we predict that a Gag-gRNA complex will nucleate particle assembly more efficiently than other Gag-RNA complexes. New data shows that among cellular mRNAs, those with long 3'-untranslated regions (UTR) are selectively packaged. It seems plausible that the 3'-UTR, a stretch of RNA not occupied by ribosomes, offers a favorable binding site for Gag.


HIV-1; RNA-protein interactions; capsid; encapsidation; genomic RNA; packaging; retroviral RNA; retroviruses; selective RNA packaging; virus assembly

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest. The founding sponsors had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, and in the decision to publish the results.

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI) Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center