BACKGROUND - Lentiviruses exhibit a cone-shaped capsid composed of subunits of the viral CA protein. The intrinsic stability of the capsid is critical for HIV-1 infection, since both stabilizing and destabilizing mutations compromise viral infectivity. Structural studies have identified three intersubunit interfaces in the HIV-1 capsid, two of which have been previously studied by mutational analysis. In this present study we analyzed the role of a third interface, that which is formed between the amino terminal domain (NTD) and carboxyl terminal domain (CTD) of adjacent subunits.
RESULTS - We provided evidence for the presence of the NTD-CTD interface in HIV-1 particles by engineering intersubunit NTD-CTD disulfide crosslinks, resulting in accumulation of disulfide-linked oligomers up to hexamers. We also generated and characterized a panel of HIV-1 mutants containing substitutions at this interface. Some mutants showed processing defects and altered morphology from that of wild type, indicating that the interface is important for capsid assembly. Analysis of these mutants by transmission electron microscopy corroborated the importance of this interface in assembly. Other mutants exhibited quantitative changes in capsid stability, many with unstable capsids, and one mutant with a hyperstable capsid. Analysis of the mutants for their capacity to saturate TRIMCyp-mediated restriction in trans confirmed that the unstable mutants undergo premature uncoating in target cells. All but one of the mutants were markedly attenuated in replication owing to impaired reverse transcription in target cells.
CONCLUSIONS - Our results demonstrate that the NTD-CTD intersubunit interface is present in the mature HIV-1 capsid and is critical for proper capsid assembly and stability.