High-resolution view of HIV-1 reverse transcriptase initiation complexes

This study is about Reverse transcription. HIV-1 viral RNA genome (vRNA) is an integral step in virus replication. Upon viral entry, HIV-1 reverse transcriptase (RT) initiates from a host tRNALys3 primer bound to the vRNA genome and is the target of key antivirals, such as non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs). Initiation proceeds slowly with discrete pausing events along the vRNA template. Despite prior medium-resolution structural characterization of reverse transcriptase initiation complexes (RTICs), higher-resolution structures of the RTIC are needed to understand the molecular mechanisms that underlie initiation.

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Fig: RTIC construct design, purification, and validation.

Here we report cryo-EM structures of the core RTIC, RTIC–nevirapine, and RTIC–efavirenz complexes at 2.8, 3.1, and 2.9 Å, respectively. In combination with biochemical studies, these data suggest a basis for rapid dissociation kinetics of RT from the vRNA–tRNALys3 initiation complex and reveal a specific structural mechanism of nucleic acid conformational stabilization during initiation. Finally, our results show that NNRTIs inhibit the RTIC and exacerbate discrete pausing during early reverse transcription.

Ha, B., Larsen, K.P., Zhang, J. et al. High-resolution view of HIV-1 reverse transcriptase initiation complexes and inhibition by NNRTI drugs. Nat Commun 12, 2500 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-22628-9

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