The dimer initiation site/dimer linkage sequence (DIS/DLS) region of HIV is located on the 5′ end of the viral genome and suggested to form complex secondary/tertiary structures. Within this structure, stem-loop 1 (SL1) is believed to be most important and an essential key to dimerization, since the sequence and predicted secondary structure of SL1 are highly stable and conserved among various virus subtypes. In particular, a six-base palindromic sequence is always present at the hairpin loop of SL1 and the formation of kissing-loop structure at this position between the two strands of genomic RNA is suggested to trigger dimerization. Although the higher-order structure model of SL1 is well accepted and perhaps even undoubted lately, there could be stillroom for consideration to depict the functional SL1 structure while in vivo (in virion or cell).
In this study, we performed several analyses to identify the nucleotides and/or basepairing within SL1 which are necessary for HIV-1 genome dimerization, encapsidation, recombination and infectivity. We unexpectedly found that some nucleotides that are believed to contribute the formation of the stem do not impact dimerization or infectivity. On the other hand, we found that one G-C basepair involved in stem formation may serve as an alternative dimer interactive site. We also report on our further investigation of the roles of the palindromic sequences on viral replication. Collectively, we aim to assemble a more-comprehensive functional map of SL1 on the HIV-1 viral life cycle.
We discovered several possibilities for a novel structure of SL1 in HIV-1 DLS. The newly proposed structure model suggested that the hairpin loop of SL1 appeared larger, and genome dimerization process might consist of more complicated mechanism than previously understood. Further investigations would be still required to fully understand the genome packaging and dimerization of HIV.