Importance of basic residues in the nucleocapsid sequence for retrovirus Gag assembly and complementation rescue

J. Bradford Bowzard, Robert P. Bennett, Neel K. Krishna, Sandra M. Ernst, Alan Rein, John W. Wills

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Scopus citations


The Gag proteins of Rous sarcoma virus (RSV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) contain small interaction (I) domains within their nucleocapsid (NC) sequences. These overlap the zinc finger motifs and function to provide the proper density to viral particles. There are two zinc fingers and at least two I domains within these Gag proteins. To more thoroughly characterize the important sequence features and properties of I domains, we analyzed Gag proteins that contain one or no zinc finger motifs. Chimeric proteins containing the amino-terminal half of RSV Gag and various portions of the carboxy terminus of murine leukemia virus (MLV) (containing one zinc finger) Gag had only one I domain, whereas similar chimeras with human foamy virus (HFV) (containing no zinc fingers) Gag had at least two. Mutational analysis of the MLV NC sequence and inspection of I domain sequences within the zinc-fingerless C terminus of HFV Gag suggested that clusters of basic residues, but not the zinc finger motif residues themselves, are required for the formation of particles of proper density. In support of this, a simple string of strongly basic residues was found to be able to substitute for the RSV I domains. We also explored the possibility that differences in I domains (e.g., their number) account for differences in the ability of Gag proteins to be rescued into particles when they are unable to bind to membranes. Previously published experiments have shown that such membrane-binding mutants of RSV and HIV (two I domains) can be rescued but that those of MLV (one I domain) cannot. Complementation rescue experiments with RSV-MLV chimeras now map this difference to the NC sequence of MLV. Importantly, the same RSV-MLV chimeras could be rescued by complementation when the block to budding was after, rather than before, transport to the membrane. These results suggest that MLV Gag molecules begin to interact at a much later time after synthesis than those of RSV and HIV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9034-9044
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1998

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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