A novel long distance base-pairing interaction in human immunodeficiency virus type 1 rna occludes the gag start codon

Truus E.M. Abbink, Ben Berkhout*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The 5′-untranslated region (5′-UTR) is the most conserved part of the HIV-1 RNA genome, and it contains regulatory motifs that mediate various steps in the viral life cycle. Previous work showed that the 5′-terminal 290 nucleotides of HIV-1 RNA adopt two mutually exclusive secondary structures, long distance interaction (LDI) and branched multiple hairpin (BMH). BMH has multiple hairpins, including the dimer initiation signal (DIS) hairpin that mediates RNA dimerization. LDI contains a long distance base-pairing interaction that occludes the DIS region. Consequently, the two conformations differ in their ability to form RNA dimers. In this study, we have presented evidence that the full-length 5′-UTR also adopts the LDI and BMH conformations. The downstream 290-352 region, including the Gag start codon, folds differently in the context of the LDI and BMH structures. These nucleotides form an extended hairpin structure in the LDI conformation, but the same sequences create a novel long distance interaction with upstream U5 sequences in the BMH conformation. The presence of this U5-AUG duplex was confirmed by computer-assisted RNA structure prediction, biochemical analyses, and a phylogenetic survey of different virus isolates. The U5-AUG duplex may influence translation of the Gag protein because it occludes the start codon of the Gag open reading frame.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11601-11611
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 28 Mar 2003

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