Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2017 11 07() pii 10.1073/pnas.1706600114
The packaging and budding of Gag polyprotein and viral RNA is a critical step in the HIV-1 life cycle. High-resolution structures of the Gag polyprotein have revealed that the capsid (CA) and spacer peptide 1 (SP1) domains contain important interfaces for Gag self-assembly. However, the molecular details of the multimerization process, especially in the presence of RNA and the cell membrane, have remained unclear. In this work, we investigate the mechanisms that work in concert between the polyproteins, RNA, and membrane to promote immature lattice growth. We develop a coarse-grained (CG) computational model that is derived from subnanometer resolution structural data. Our simulations recapitulate contiguous and hexameric lattice assembly driven only by weak anisotropic attractions at the helical CA-SP1 junction. Importantly, analysis from CG and single-particle tracking photoactivated localization (spt-PALM) trajectories indicates that viral RNA and the membrane are critical constituents that actively promote Gag multimerization through scaffolding, while overexpression of short competitor RNA can suppress assembly. We also find that the CA amino-terminal domain imparts intrinsic curvature to the Gag lattice. As a consequence, immature lattice growth appears to be coupled to the dynamics of spontaneous membrane deformation. Our findings elucidate a simple network of interactions that regulate the early stages of HIV-1 assembly and budding.