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J Virol. 1998 Jun;72(6):4667-77.

Particle size determinants in the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 Gag protein.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania 17033, USA.


The retroviral Gag protein plays the central role in the assembly process and can form membrane-enclosed, virus-like particles in the absence of any other viral products. These particles are similar to authentic virions in density and size. Three small domains of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) Gag protein have been previously identified as being important for budding. Regions that lie outside these domains can be deleted without any effect on particle release or density. However, the regions of Gag that control the size of HIV-1 particles are less well understood. In the case of Rous sarcoma virus (RSV), the size determinant maps to the CA (capsid) and adjacent spacer sequences within Gag, but systematic mapping of the HIV Gag protein has not been reported. To locate the size determinants of HIV-1, we analyzed a large collection of Gag mutants. To our surprise, all mutants with defects in the MA (matrix), CA, and the N-terminal part of NC (nucleocapsid) sequences produced dense particles of normal size, suggesting that oncoviruses (RSV) and lentiviruses (HIV-1) have different size-controlling elements. The most important region found to be critical for determining HIV-1 particle size is the p6 sequence. Particles lacking all or small parts of p6 were uniform in size distribution but very large as measured by rate zonal gradients. Further evidence for this novel function of p6 was obtained by placing this sequence at the C terminus of RSV CA mutants that produce heterogeneously sized particles. We found that the RSV-p6 chimeras produced normally sized particles. Thus, we present evidence that the entire p6 sequence plays a role in determining the size of a retroviral particle.

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