Viruses 2016 12 218(12) pii 10.3390/v8120338
The 5′-leader of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) genome plays several critical roles during viral replication, including differentially establishing mRNA versus genomic RNA (gRNA) fates. As observed for proteins, the function of the RNA is tightly regulated by its structure, and a common paradigm has been that genome function is temporally modulated by structural changes in the 5′-leader. Over the past 30 years, combinations of nucleotide reactivity mapping experiments with biochemistry, mutagenesis, and phylogenetic studies have provided clues regarding the secondary structures of stretches of residues within the leader that adopt functionally discrete domains. More recently, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy approaches have been developed that enable direct detection of intra- and inter-molecular interactions within the intact leader, providing detailed insights into the structural determinants and mechanisms that regulate HIV-1 genome packaging and function.