A riboswitch regulates RNA dimerization and packaging in human immunodeficiency virus type 1 virions

Marcel Ooms, Hendrik Huthoff, Rodney Russell, Chen Liang, Ben Berkhout

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89 Scopus citations


The genome of retroviruses, including human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1), consists of two identical RNA strands that are packaged as noncovalently linked dimers. The core packaging and dimerization signals are located in the downstream part of the untranslated leader of HIV-1 RNA-the Ψ and the dimerization initiation site (DIS) hairpins. The HIV-1 leader can adopt two alternative conformations that differ in the presentation of the DIS hairpin and consequently in their ability to dimerize in vitro. The branched multiple-hairpin (BMH) structure folds the poly(A) and DIS hairpins, but these domains are base paired in a long distance interaction (LDI) in the most stable LDI conformation. This LDI-BMH riboswitch regulates RNA dimerization in vitro. It was recently shown that the Ψ hairpin structure is also presented differently in the LDI and BMH structures. Several detailed in vivo studies have indicated that sequences throughout the leader RNA contribute to RNA packaging, but how these diverse mutations affect the packaging mechanism is not known. We reasoned that these effects may be due to a change in the LDI-BMH equilibrium, and we therefore reanalyzed the structural effects of a large set of leader RNA mutations that were presented in three previous studies (J. L. Clever, D. Mirandar, Jr., and T. G. Parslow, J. Virol. 76:12381-12387, 2002; C. Helga-Maria, M. L. Hammarskjold, and D. Rekosh, J. Virol. 73:4127-4135, 1999; R. S. Russell, J. Hu, V. Beriault, A. J. Mouland, M. Laughrea, L. Kleiman, M. A. Wainberg, and C. Liang, J. Virol. 77:84-96, 2003). This analysis revealed a strict correlation between the status of the LDI-BMH equilibrium and RNA packaging. Furthermore, a correlation is apparent between RNA dimerization and RNA packaging, and these processes may be coordinated by the same LDI-BMH riboswitch mechanism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10814-10819
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Virology
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 2004
Externally publishedYes


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