Retroviral reverse transcription starts with the extension of a cellular tRNA primer bound near the 5' end of the viral genomic RNA at a site called the primer binding site (PBS). Formation of the HIV-1 initiation complex between tRNA3(Lys), viral RNA and reverse transcriptase probably occurs during encapsidation of these components. tRNA3(Lys) is thought to be selectively packaged by interaction with the reverse transcriptase domain of the Pr160(Gag-Pol) precursor protein, then annealed to the PBS of viral RNA with the help of the nucleocapsid protein. tRNA3(Lys) and HIV-1 viral RNA form a highly-structured complex, with extended interactions between the two molecules. Two different modes of reverse transcription have bean distinguished: initiation, a tRNA3(Lys)-specific and distributive mode of polymerization corresponding to the addition of the first five nucleotides, followed by elongation, a non-specific and processive mode of DNA synthesis. These two modes are reminiscent of the initiation and elongation processes previously observed with DNA-dependent RNA polymerases.
- Reverse transcriptase