BMC structural biology 2017 04 0417(1) 3 doi 10.1186/s12900-017-0073-0
The Spumaretrovirinae (foamy viruses) and the Orthoretrovirinae (e.g. HIV) share many similarities both in genome structure and the sequences of the core viral encoded proteins, such as the aspartyl protease and reverse transcriptase. Similarity in the gag region of the genome is less obvious at the sequence level but has been illuminated by the recent solution of the foamy virus capsid (CA) structure. This revealed a clear structural similarity to the orthoretrovirus capsids but with marked differences that left uncertainty in the relationship between the two domains that comprise the structure.
We have applied protein structure comparison methods in order to try and resolve this ambiguous relationship. These included both the DALI method and the SAP method, with rigorous statistical tests applied to the results of both methods. For this, we employed collections of artificial fold ‘decoys’ (generated from the pair of native structures being compared) to provide a customised background distribution for each comparison, thus allowing significance levels to be estimated.
We have shown that the relationship of the two domains conforms to a simple linear correspondence rather than a domain transposition. These similarities suggest that the origin of both viral capsids was a common ancestor with a double domain structure. In addition, we show that there is also a significant structural similarity between the amino and carboxy domains in both the foamy and ortho viruses.
These results indicate that, as well as the duplication of the double domain capsid, there may have been an even more ancient gene-duplication that preceded the double domain structure. In addition, our structure comparison methodology demonstrates a general approach to problems where the components have a high intrinsic level of similarity.