Due to their high mutation rates, RNA viruses and retroviruses replicate close to the threshold of viability. Their existence as quasi-species has pioneered the concept of lethal mutagenesis that prompted us to synthesize pyrimidine nucleoside analogues with antiviral activity in cell culture consistent with an accumulation of deleterious mutations in the HIV-1 genome. However, testing all potentially mutagenic compounds in cell-based assays is tedious and costly. Here, we describe two simple in vitro biophysical/biochemical assays that allow prediction of the mutagenic potential of deoxyribonucleoside analogues. The first assay compares the thermal stabilities of matched and mismatched base-pairs in DNA duplexes containing or not the nucleoside analogues: a promising candidate should display a small destabilisation of the matched base-pair compared to the natural nucleoside and the smallest gap possible between the stabilities of the matched and mismatched base-pairs. From this assay, we predicted that two of our compounds, 5-hydroxymethyl-2'-deoxyuridine and 5-hydroxymethyl-2'-deoxycytidine should be mutagenic. The second in vitro reverse transcription assay assesses DNA synthesis opposite nucleoside analogues inserted into a template strand and subsequent extension of the newly synthesised base pairs. Once again, only 5-hydroxymethyl-2'-deoxyuridine and 5-hydroxymethyl-2'-deoxycytidine are predicted to be efficient mutagens. The predictive potential of our fast and easy first line screens was confirmed by detailed analysis of the mutation spectrum induced by the compounds in cell culture since only compounds 5-hydroxymethyl-2'-deoxyuridine and 5-hydroxymethyl-2'-deoxycytidine were found to increase the mutation frequency, by 3.1 and 3.4 fold, respectively.
During assembly of HIV-1 particles in infected cells, the viral Pr55(Gag) protein (or Gag precursor) must select the viral genomic RNA (gRNA) from a variety of cellular and viral spliced RNAs. However, there is no consensus on how Pr55(Gag) achieves this selection. Here, by using RNA binding and footprinting assays, we demonstrate that the primary Pr55(Gag) binding site on the gRNA consists of the internal loop and the lower part of stem-loop 1 (SL1), the upper part of which initiates gRNA dimerization. A double regulation ensures specific binding of Pr55(Gag) to the gRNA despite the fact that SL1 is also present in spliced viral RNAs. The region upstream of SL1, which is present in all HIV-1 RNAs, prevents binding to SL1, but this negative effect is counteracted by sequences downstream of SL4, which are unique to the gRNA.
Micro (mi)RNAs are small non-coding RNAs with key regulatory functions. Recent advances in the field allowed researchers to identify their targets. However, much less is known regarding the regulation of miRNAs themselves. The accumulation of these tiny regulators can be modulated at various levels during their biogenesis from the transcription of the primary transcript (pri-miRNA) to the stability of the mature miRNA. Here, we studied the importance of the pri-miRNA secondary structure for the regulation of mature miRNA accumulation. To this end, we used the Kaposi's sarcoma herpesvirus, which encodes a cluster of 12 pre-miRNAs. Using small RNA profiling and quantitative northern blot analysis, we measured the absolute amount of each mature miRNAs in different cellular context. We found that the difference in expression between the least and most expressed viral miRNAs could be as high as 60-fold. Using high-throughput selective 2'-hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension, we then determined the secondary structure of the long primary transcript. We found that highly expressed miRNAs derived from optimally structured regions within the pri-miRNA. Finally, we confirmed the importance of the local structure by swapping stem-loops or by targeted mutagenesis of selected miRNAs, which resulted in a perturbed accumulation of the mature miRNA.
BackgroundOne of the hallmarks of retroviral life cycle is the efficient and specific packaging of two copies of retroviral gRNA in the form of a non-covalent RNA dimer by the assembling virions. It is becoming increasingly clear that the process of dimerization is closely linked with gRNA packaging, and in some retroviruses, the latter depends on the former. Earlier mutational analysis of the 5¿ end of the MMTV genome indicated that MMTV gRNA packaging determinants comprise sequences both within the 5¿ untranslated region (5¿ UTR) and the beginning of gag.ResultsThe RNA secondary structure of MMTV gRNA packaging sequences was elucidated employing selective 2¿hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension (SHAPE). SHAPE analyses revealed the presence of a U5/Gag long-range interaction (U5/Gag LRI), not predicted by minimum free-energy structure predictions that potentially stabilizes the global structure of this region. Structure conservation along with base-pair covariations between different strains of MMTV further supported the SHAPE-validated model. The 5¿ region of the MMTV gRNA contains multiple palindromic (pal) sequences that could initiate intermolecular interaction during RNA dimerization. In vitro RNA dimerization, SHAPE analysis, and structure prediction approaches on a series of pal mutants revealed that MMTV RNA utilizes a palindromic point of contact to initiate intermolecular interactions between two gRNAs, leading to dimerization. This contact point resides within pal II (5¿ CGGCCG 3¿) at the 5¿ UTR and contains a canonical ¿GC¿ dyad and therefore likely constitutes the MMTV RNA dimerization initiation site (DIS). Further analyses of these pal mutants employing in vivo genetic approaches indicate that pal II, as well as pal sequences located in the primer binding site (PBS) are both required for efficient MMTV gRNA packaging.ConclusionsEmploying structural prediction, biochemical, and genetic approaches, we show that pal II functions as a primary point of contact between two MMTV RNAs, leading to gRNA dimerization and its subsequent encapsidation into the assembling virus particles. The results presented here enhance our understanding of the MMTV gRNA dimerization and packaging processes and the role of structural motifs with respect to RNA-RNA and possibly RNA-protein interactions that might be taking place during MMTV life cycle.
Earlier genetic and structural prediction analyses revealed that the packaging determinants of Mason Pfizer monkey virus (MPMV) include two discontinuous core regions at the 5 end of its genomic RNA. RNA secondary structure predictions suggested that these packaging determinants fold into several stem-loops (SLs). To experimentally validate this structural model, we employed selective 2 hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension (SHAPE), which examines the flexibility of the RNA backbone at each nucleotide position. Our SHAPE data validated several predicted structural motifs, including U5/Gag long-range interactions (LRIs), a stretch of single-stranded purine (ssPurine)-rich region, and a distinctive G-C-rich palindromic (pal) SL. Minimum free-energy structure predictions, phylogenetic, and in silico modeling analyses of different MPMV strains revealed that the U5 and gag sequences involved in the LRIs differ minimally within strains and maintain a very high degree of complementarity. Since the pal SL forms a helix loop containing a canonical "GC" dyad, it may act as a RNA dimerization initiation site (DIS), enabling the virus to package two copies of its genome. Analyses of wild-type and pal mutant RNAs revealed that disruption of pal sequence strongly affected RNA dimerization. However, when in vitro transcribed trans-complementary pal mutants were incubated together showed RNA dimerization was restored authenticating that the pal loop (5-CGGCCG-3) functions as DIS.
The occurrence of resistant viruses to any of the anti-HIV-1 compounds used in the current therapies against AIDS underlies the urge for the development of new drug targets and/or new drugs acting through novel mechanisms. While all anti-HIV-1 nucleoside analogues in clinical use and in clinical trials rely on ribose modifications for activity, we designed nucleosides with a natural deoxyribose moiety and modifications of position 8 of the adenine base. Such modifications might induce a steric clash with helix ?H in the thumb domain of the p66 subunit of HIV-1 RT at a distance from the catalytic site, causing delayed chain termination. Eleven new 2-deoxyadenosine analogues modified on position 8 of the purine base were synthesized and tested in vitro and in cell-based assays. In this paper we demonstrate for the first time that chemical modifications on position 8 of 2-deoxyadenosine induce delayed chain termination in vitro, and also inhibit DNA synthesis when incorporated in a DNA template strand. Furthermore, one of them had moderate anti-HIV-1 activity in cell-culture. Our results constitute a proof of concept indicating that modification on the base moiety of nucleosides can induce delayed polymerization arrest and inhibit HIV-1 replication.
Due to its small size and versatility, the biarsenical-tetracysteine system is an attractive way to label viral proteins for live cell imaging. This study describes the genetic labeling of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) structural proteins (matrix, capsid and nucleocapsid), enzymes (protease, reverse transcriptase, RNAse H and integrase) and envelope glycoprotein 120 with a tetracysteine tag in the context of a full-length virus. We measure the impact of these modifications on the natural virus infection and, most importantly, present the first infectious HIV-1 construct containing a fluorescently-labeled nucleocapsid protein. Furthermore, due to the high background levels normally associated with the labeling of tetracysteine-tagged proteins we have also optimized a metabolic labeling system that produces infectious virus containing the natural envelope glycoproteins and specifically labeled tetracysteine-tagged proteins that can easily be detected after virus infection of T-lymphocytes. This approach can be adapted to other viral systems for the visualization of the interplay between virus and host cell during infection.
With the goal of limiting HIV-1 proliferation by increasing the mutation rate of the viral genome, we synthesized a series of pyrimidine nucleoside analogues modified in position 5 of the aglycone moiety but unmodified on the sugar part. The synthetic strategies allow us to prepare the targeted compounds directly from commercially available nucleosides. All compounds were tested for their ability to reduce HIV-1 proliferation in cell culture. Two of them (5-hydroxymethyl-2-dU (1c) and 5-hydroxymethyl-2-dC (2c)) displayed a moderate antiviral activity in single passage experiments. The same two compounds plus two additional ones (5-carbamoyl-2-dU (1a) and 5-carbamoylmethyl-2-dU (1b)) were potent inhibitors of HIV-1 RT activity in serial passage assays, in which they induced a progressive loss of HIV-1 replication. In addition, viruses collected after seven passages in the presence of 1c and 2c replicated very poorly after withdrawal of these compounds, consistent with the accumulation of deleterious mutations in the HIV-1 genome.
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