Residues in the alphaH and alphaI helices of the HIV-1 reverse transcriptase thumb subdomain required for the specificity of RNase H-catalyzed removal of the polypurine tract primer.


During retrovirus replication, reverse transcriptase (RT) must specifically interact with the polypurine tract (PPT) to generate and subsequently remove the RNA primer for plus-strand DNA synthesis. We have investigated the role that human immunodeficiency virus-1 RT residues in the alphaH and alphaI helices in the thumb subdomain play in specific RNase H cleavage at the 3'-end of the PPT; an in vitro assay modeling the primer removal step was used. Analysis of alanine-scanning mutants revealed that a subgroup exhibits an unusual phenotype in which the PPT is cleaved up to seven bases from its 3'-end. Further analysis of alphaH mutants (G262A, K263A, N265A, and W266A) with changes in residues in or near a structural motif known as the minor groove binding track showed that the RNase H activity of these mutants is more dramatically affected with PPT substrates than with non-PPT substrates. Vertical scan mutants at position 266 were all defective in specific RNase H cleavage, consistent with conservation of tryptophan at this position among lentiviral RTs. Our results indicate that residues in the thumb subdomain and the minor groove binding track in particular, are crucial for unique interactions between RT and the PPT required for correct positioning and precise RNase H cleavage.




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