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J Virol. 1995 Aug;69(8):4906-13.

Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 TAR element revertant viruses define RNA structures required for efficient viral gene expression and replication.

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Department of Internal Medicine, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas 75235-8594, USA.


The TAR element is a viral regulatory element extending from +1 to +60 in the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) long terminal repeat, which is critical for activation by the transactivator protein Tat. Jurkat cell lines chronically infected with viruses containing HIV-1 TAR element mutations are extremely defective for both gene expression and replication. We previously demonstrated that viruses containing mutations of the TAR RNA stem, bulge, or loop structures have 200- to 5,000-fold-reduced levels of gene expression compared with lymphoid cells harboring wild-type virus. In this study, we characterized several Jurkat cell lines infected with TAR element mutant viruses which spontaneously produced culture supernatants with wild-type-like levels of reverse transcriptase activity. These viral supernatants were used to infect Jurkat cells, and following PCR amplification of the viral long terminal repeats, their DNA sequences were analyzed. This analysis demonstrated that revertant viruses isolated from these cell lines retained the original TAR mutations but also contained additional compensatory mutations within TAR. In gel retardation analysis, recombinant Tat protein bound to higher levels to in vitro-transcribed revertant TAR RNAs than the original TAR RNA mutants. Both the original and revertant TAR elements were inserted into both chloramphenicol acetyltransferase reporter and HIV-1 proviral constructs and assayed following transfection of Jurkat cells. Constructs containing revertant TAR element mutations were capable of strong activation by Tat in contrast to constructs containing the original TAR mutations. Analysis of the secondary structure of TAR RNA sequences suggested that TAR RNA structures which differed from that of wild-type TAR were still capable of strong activation in response to Tat. These results further define critical sequences in TAR RNA that are required for tat activation. In addition, since TAR structures with lower free energy that preserve the loop and bulge structures may be favored over fully formed TAR RNA with higher stable free energy, these results implicate nascent RNA rather than the fully formed TAR RNA structure as the target for tat activation.

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