Autoprocessing of HIV-1 protease is tightly coupled to protein folding

Nat Struct Biol. 1999 Sep;6(9):868-75. doi: 10.1038/12327.


In the Gag-Pol polyprotein of HIV-1, the 99-amino acid protease is flanked at its N-terminus by a transframe region (TFR) composed of the transframe octapeptide (TFP) and 48 amino acids of the p6pol, separated by a protease cleavage site. The intact precursor (TFP-p6pol-PR) has very low dimer stability relative to that of the mature enzyme and exhibits negligible levels of stable tertiary structure. Thus, the TFR functions by destabilizing the native structure, unlike proregions found in zymogen forms of monomeric aspartic proteases. Cleavage at the p6pol-PR site to release a free N-terminus of protease is concomitant with the appearance of enzymatic activity and formation of a stable tertiary structure that is characteristic of the mature protease as demonstrated by nuclear magnetic resonance. The release of the mature protease from the precursor can either occur in two steps at pH values of 4 to 6 or in a single step above pH 6. The mature protease forms a dimer through a four-stranded beta-sheet at the interface. Residues 1-4 of the mature protease from each subunit constitute the outer strands of the beta-sheet, and are essential for maintaining the stability of the free protease but are not a prerequisite for the formation of tertiary structure and catalytic activity. Our experimental results provide the basis for the model proposed here for the regulation of the HIV-1 protease in the viral replication cycle.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Dimerization
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Enzyme Precursors / chemistry
  • Enzyme Precursors / genetics
  • Enzyme Precursors / metabolism*
  • Enzyme Stability
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Viral
  • HIV Protease / chemistry*
  • HIV Protease / genetics
  • HIV Protease / metabolism*
  • HIV-1 / enzymology*
  • HIV-1 / physiology
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Hydrolysis
  • Kinetics
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation
  • Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Biomolecular
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Denaturation
  • Protein Folding*
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational*
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / chemistry
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism
  • Thermodynamics


  • Enzyme Precursors
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • HIV Protease