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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1994 May 24;91(11):4945-9.

Identification of the primary site of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 RNA dimerization in vitro.

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Unité Propre de Recherche 9002 du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Institut de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire, Strasbourg, France.


The diploid genome of all retroviruses is made of two homologous copies of RNA intimately associated near their 5' end, in a region called the dimer linkage structure. Dimerization of genomic RNA is thought to be important for crucial functions of the retroviral life cycle (reverse transcription, translation, encapsidation). Previous in vitro studies mapped the dimer linkage structure of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) in a region downstream of the splice donor site, containing conserved purine tracts that were postulated to mediate dimerization, through purine quartets. However, we recently showed that dimerization of HIV-1 RNA also involves sequences upstream of the splice donor site. Here, we used chemical modification interference to identify nucleotides that are required in unmodified form for dimerization of a RNA fragment containing nucleotides 1-707 of HIV-1 RNA. These nucleotides map exclusively in a restricted area upstream of the splice donor site and downstream of the primer binding site. They are centered around a palindromic sequence (GUGCAC279) located in a hairpin loop. Our results support a model in which dimer formation is initiated by the annealing of the palindromic sequences, possibly by a loop-loop interaction between the two monomers. Further experiments show that the deletion of the stem-loop or base substitutions in the loop abolish dimerization, despite the presence of the previously postulated dimer linkage structure. On the other hand, deletions of the purine tracts downstream of the splice donor site do not prevent dimerization. Therefore, we conclude that the palindromic region represents the dimerization initiation site of genomic RNA.

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