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J Mol Biol. 1997 May 2;268(2):250-60.

Possible roles of HIV-1 nucleocapsid protein in the specificity of proviral DNA synthesis and in its variability.

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LaboRetro Unité de Virologie Humaine 412, Ecole Normale Supérieure deLyon, France.


Retroviral nucleocapsid (NC) protein is an integral part of the virion nucleocapsid where it coats the dimeric RNA genome. Due to its nucleic acid binding and annealing activities, NC protein directs the annealing of the tRNA primer to the primer binding site and greatly facilitates minus strand DNA elongation and transfer while protecting the nucleic acids against nuclease degradation. To understand the role of NCp7 in viral DNA synthesis, we examined the influence of NCp7 on self-primed versus primer-specific reverse transcription. The results show that HIV-1 NCp7 can extensively inhibit self-primed reverse transcription of viral and cellular RNAs while promoting primer-specific synthesis of proviral DNA. The role of NCp7 vis-a-vis the presence of mutations in the viral DNA during minus strand elongation was examined. NCp7 maximized the annealing between a cDNA(-) primer containing one to five consecutive errors and an RNA representing the 3' end of the genome. The ability of reverse transcriptase (RT) in the presence of NCp7 to subsequently extend the mutated primers depended upon the position of the mismatch within the primer:template complex. When the mutations were at the polymerisation site, primer extension by RT in the presence of NCp7 was very high, about 40% for one mismatch and 3% for five consecutive mismatches. Mutations within the DNA primer or at its 5' end had little effect on the extension of viral DNA by RT. Taken together these results indicate that NCp7 plays major roles in proviral DNA synthesis within the virion core due to its ability to promote prime-specific proviral DNA synthesis while concurrently inhibiting non-specific reverse transcription of viral and cellular RNAs. Moreover, the observation that NCp7 enhances the incorporation of mutations during minus strand DNA elongation favours the notion that NCp7 is a factor contributing to the high mutation rate of HIV-1.

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