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EMBO J. 1994 Jun 1;13(11):2650-9.

Evolution of a disrupted TAR RNA hairpin structure in the HIV-1 virus.

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University of Amsterdam, Department of Virology, Academic Medical Center, The Netherlands.


Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) RNA contains an extended hairpin structure at the 5' end (the TAR element) that is essential for viral replication. The upper part of the stem-loop structure binds the virally encoded transcriptional activator protein Tat and cellular co-factors, but no clear function for the lower stem region has been established. Here, we report that mutant HIV-1 viruses with base substitutions in the lower stem region are dead, most likely at the level of transcription from an integrated provirus. By using large amounts of these mutant DNA constructs for transfections, revertant viruses with a great variety of genetic changes (point mutations, short deletions) could be isolated in prolonged culture experiments that lasted over 6 months. The pattern and evolution of these changes supported the notion that base-pairing of the lower stem region is essential for optimal HIV-1 replication. The functional and genetic plasticities of this RNA domain and the HIV-1 long terminal repeat promoter are discussed.

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