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Curr Biol. 1995 Sep 1;5(9):1047-56.

Target DNA capture by HIV-1 integration complexes.

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Infectious Disease Laboratory, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California 92024, USA.



The early steps of human immunodeficiency virus 1 (HIV-1) replication involve reverse transcription of the viral RNA and integration of the resulting cDNA into a host chromosome. The DNA integration step requires the integration machinery ('preintegration complex') to bind to the host DNA before connecting the viral and host DNAs. Here, we present experiments that distinguish among three possible pathways of target-DNA capture: repeated binding and release of target DNA prior to the chemical strand-transfer step; binding followed by facilitated diffusion along target DNA (sliding); and integration at the initial target-capture site. The mechanism of target-DNA capture has implications for the design of gene therapy methods, and influences the interpretation of results on the selection of integration target sites in vivo.


We present new in vitro conditions that allow us to assemble HIV-1 integrase--the virus-encoded recombination enzyme--with a viral DNA and then to trap assembled complexes bound to target DNA. We find that complexes of integrase and viral DNA do not slide along target DNA substantially after binding. We confirm and extend these results by analyzing target capture by a hybrid protein composed of HIV-1 integrase linked to a sequence-specific DNA-binding domain. We find that the integrase domain binds quickly and tightly under the above conditions, thereby obstructing function of the fused sequence-specific DNA-binding domain. We also monitor target-DNA capture by HIV-1 preintegration complexes purified from freshly infected cells. Partially purified complexes commit quickly and stably to the first target DNA added, whereas preintegration complexes in crude cytoplasmic extracts do not. The addition of extracts from uninfected cells to partially purified complexes blocks quick commitment.


Under new conditions favorable for the analysis of target-DNA capture in vitro, HIV-1 integrase complexes bind quickly and stably to target DNA without subsequent sliding. Parallel studies of preintegration complexes support a model in which target-site capture in vivo is reversible as a result of the action of cellular factors.

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