5 years ago

HIV-1 tolerates changes in A-count in a small segment of the pol gene

Ben Berkhout, Bep Klaver, Formijn van Hemert, Antoinette C. van der Kuyl, Yme van der Velden
The HIV-1 RNA genome has a biased nucleotide composition with a surplus of As. Several hypotheses have been put forward to explain this striking phenomenon, but the A-count of the HIV-1 genome has thus far not been systematically manipulated. The reason for this reservation is the likelihood that known and unknown sequence motifs will be affected by such a massive mutational approach, thus resulting in replication-impaired virus mutants. We present the first attempt to increase and decrease the A-count in a relatively small polymerase (pol) gene segment of HIV-1 RNA. To minimize the mutational impact, a new mutational approach was developed that is inspired by natural sequence variation as present in HIV-1 isolates. This phylogeny-instructed mutagenesis allowed us to create replication-competent HIV-1 mutants with a significantly increased or decreased local A-count. The local A-count of the wild-type (wt) virus (40.2%) was further increased to 46.9% or reduced to 31.7 and 26.3%. These HIV-1 variants replicate efficiently in vitro, despite the fact that the pol changes cause a quite profound move in HIV–SIV sequence space. Extrapolating these results to the complete 9 kb RNA genome, we may cautiously suggest that the A-rich signature does not have to be maintained. This survey also provided clues that silent codon changes, in particular from G-to-A, determine the subtype-specific sequence signatures.
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