Site-directed mutagenesis in the fingers subdomain of HIV-1 reverse transcriptase reveals a specific role for the beta3-beta4 hairpin loop in dNTP selection.


HIV-1 reverse transcriptase shares the key features of high fidelity polymerases, such as a closed architecture of the active site, but displays a level of fidelity that is intermediate to that of high fidelity, replicative polymerases and low fidelity translesion synthesis (TLS) polymerases. The beta3-beta4 loop of the HIV-1 RT fingers subdomain makes transient contacts with the dNTP and template base. To investigate the role of active site architecture in HIV-1 RT fidelity, we truncated the beta3-beta4 loop, eliminating contact between Lys65 and the gamma-phosphate of dNTP. The mutant, in a manner reminiscent of TLS polymerases, was only able to incorporate a nucleotide that was capable of base-pairing with the template nucleotide, but not a nucleotide shape-analog incapable of Watson-Crick hydrogen bonding. Unexpectedly, however, the deletion mutant differed from the TLS polymerases in that it displayed an increased fidelity. The increased fidelity was associated with reduced dNTP binding affinity as measured using the dead end complex formation. In an effort to delineate the specific amino acid residue in the deleted segment responsible for this phenotype, we examined the K65 residue. Two substitution mutants, K65R and K65A were studied. The K65A mutant behaved similarly to the deletion mutant displaying dependence on Watson-Crick hydrogen bonding, increased fidelity and reduced dNTP-binding, while the K65R was more akin to wild-type enzyme. These results underscore the key role of the K65 residue in the phenotype observed in the deletion mutant. Based on the well-known electrostatic interaction between K65 and the gamma-phosphate moiety of incoming dNTP substrate in the ternary complex structure of HIV-1 RT, we conclude that non-discriminatory interactions between beta3-beta4 loop and the dNTP in wild-type HIV-1 RT help lower dNTP selectivity. Our results show that the fidelity of dNTP insertion is influenced by protein interactions with the triphosphate moiety.




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