Opening of the TAR hairpin in the HIV-1 genome causes aberrant RNA dimerization and packaging

Atze T. Das, Martine M. Vrolijk, Alex Harwig, Ben Berkhout

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22 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The TAR hairpin is present at both the 5' and 3' end of the HIV-1 RNA genome. The 5' element binds the viral Tat protein and is essential for Tat-mediated activation of transcription. We recently observed that complete TAR deletion is allowed in the context of an HIV-1 variant that does not depend on this Tat-TAR axis for transcription. Mutations that open the 5' stem-loop structure did however affect the leader RNA conformation and resulted in a severe replication defect. In this study, we set out to analyze which step of the HIV-1 replication cycle is affected by this conformational change of the leader RNA. Results: We demonstrate that opening the 5' TAR structure through a deletion in either side of the stem region caused aberrant dimerization and reduced packaging of the unspliced viral RNA genome. In contrast, truncation of the TAR hairpin through deletions in both sides of the stem did not affect RNA dimer formation and packaging. Conclusions: These results demonstrate that, although the TAR hairpin is not essential for RNA dimerization and packaging, mutations in TAR can significantly affect these processes through misfolding of the relevant RNA signals
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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