Structure and dimerization of HIV-1 kissing loop aptamers

J. Stephen Lodmell, Chantal Ehresmann, Bernard Ehresmann, Roland Marquet

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37 Scopus citations


Dimerization of two homologous strands of genomic RNA is an essential feature of the retroviral replication cycle. In HIV-1, genomic RNA dimerization is facilitated by a conserved stem-loop structure located near the 5′ end of the viral RNA called the dimerization initiation site (DIS). The DIS loop is comprised of nine nucleotides, six of which define an autocomplementary sequence flanked by three conserved purine residues. Basepairing between the loop sequences of two copies of genomic RNA is necessary for efficient dimerization. We previously used in vitro evolution to investigate a possible structural basis for the marked sequence conservation of the DIS loop. In this study, chemical structure probing, measurements of the apparent dissociation constants, and computer structure analysis of dimerization-competent aptamers were used to analyze the dimers' structure and binding. The selected aptamers were variants of the naturally occurring A and B subtypes. The data suggest that a sheared base-pair closing the loop of the DIS is important for dimerization in both subtypes. On the other hand, the open or closed state of the last base-pair in the stem differed in the two subtypes. This base-pair appeared closed in the subtype A DIS dimer and open in sub-type B. Finally, evidence for a cross-talk between nucleotides 2, 5, and 6 was found in some, but not all, loop contexts, indicating some structural plasticity depending on loop sequence. Discriminating between the general rules governing dimer formation and the particular characteristics of individual DIS aptamers helps to explain the affinity and specificity of loop-loop interactions and could provide the basis for development of drugs targeted against the dimerization step during retroviral replication.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)475-490
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 17 2001


  • DIS
  • Dimerization
  • HIV
  • In vitro evolution
  • RNA structure


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