A Stretch of Unpaired Purines in the Leader Region of Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) Genomic RNA is Critical for its Packaging into Virions

Vineeta N. Pillai, Lizna Mohamed Ali, Suresha G. Prabhu, Anjana Krishnan, Akhil Chameettachal, Fathima Nuzra Nagoor Pitchai, Farah Mustafa, Tahir A. Rizvi

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4 Citations (Scopus)


Simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) is an important lentivirus used as a non-human primate model to study HIV replication, and pathogenesis of human AIDS, as well as a potential vector for human gene therapy. This study investigated the role of single-stranded purines (ssPurines) as potential genomic RNA (gRNA) packaging determinants in SIV replication. Similar ssPurines have been implicated as important motifs for gRNA packaging in many retroviruses like, HIV-1, MPMV, and MMTV by serving as Gag binding sites during virion assembly. In examining the secondary structure of the SIV 5′ leader region, as recently deduced using SHAPE methodology, we identified four specific stretches of ssPurines (I-IV) in the region that harbors major packaging determinants of SIV. The significance of these ssPurine motifs were investigated by mutational analysis coupled with a biologically relevant single round of replication assay. These analyses revealed that while ssPurine II was essential, the others (ssPurines I, III, & IV) did not significantly contribute to SIV gRNA packaging. Any mutation in the ssPurine II, such as its deletion or substitution, or other mutations that caused base pairing of ssPurine II loop resulted in near abrogation of RNA packaging, further substantiating the crucial role of ssPurine II and its looped conformation in SIV gRNA packaging. Structure prediction analysis of these mutants further corroborated the biological results and further revealed that the unpaired nature of ssPurine II is critical for its function during SIV RNA packaging perhaps by enabling it to function as a specific binding site for SIV Gag.

Original languageEnglish
Article number167293
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - Nov 19 2021


  • RNA packaging
  • RNA secondary structure
  • Retroviruses
  • Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV)
  • Single-stranded purines (ssPurines)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology


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