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Virology. 1993 Apr;193(2):661-71.

Overexpression of the HIV-1 gag-pol polyprotein results in intracellular activation of HIV-1 protease and inhibition of assembly and budding of virus-like particles.

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Laboratory of Viral Diseases, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH, Bethesda, Maryland 20892.


Some retroviruses, including HIV-1, regulate the relative amounts of gag and pol gene products by a translational frameshift mechanism. The consequences of altering the ratios of the Gag and Pol proteins were tested using vaccinia virus expression vectors, in which the gag and pol genes were fused by placing them in the same open reading frame. Immunoblotting of cell lysates indicated that a protein of approximately 160 kDa, the expected translation product of the fused gag-pol gene, was the dominant species detected with HIV-specific antiserum during the first several hours of infection with this recombinant virus. Subsequently, the full-length polyprotein diminished in amount and a series of Gag-related intermediate size proteins appeared. Later in infection, p24 and myristoylated p17 Gag proteins predominated and larger amounts of intracellularly processed reverse transcriptase, integrase, and protease were detected compared to the amounts formed with the wild-type gag-pol gene. Large numbers of budding, immature, and mature retrovirus-like particles were visualized by electron microscopy when the wild-type gag-pol gene was expressed, whereas no particles were detected in cells that expressed the fused gag-pol gene. The block to virus assembly was partially overcome by (i) inhibition of the HIV-1 protease with a peptidomimetic inhibitor, (ii) mutagenesis of the active site of the protease, or (iii) shortening of the Gag-Pol polyprotein by deletion of most of the reverse transcriptase gene. Nevertheless, budding was inefficient and the structures appeared immature and frequently aberrant. These results indicated that overproduction of the full-length Gag-Pol polyprotein and increased intracellular protease activity were both detrimental to viral assembly. Further experiments indicated that intracellular processing of Gag and Gag-Pol polyproteins occurred in the absence of particle formation when myristoylation was prevented.

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