The d(TTGGGGGGTACAGTGCA) sequence, derived from the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) central DNA flap, can form in vitro an intermolecular parallel DNA quadruplex. This work demonstrates that the HIV-1 nucleocapsid protein (NCp) exhibits a high affinity (10(8) M(-1)) for this quadruplex. This interaction is predominantly hydrophobic, maintained by a stabilization between G-quartet planes and the C-terminal zinc finger of the protein. It also requires 5 nt long tails flanking the quartets plus both the second zinc-finger and the N-terminal domain of NCp. The initial binding nucleates an ordered arrangement of consecutive NCp along the four single-stranded tails. Such a process requires the N-terminal zinc finger, and was found to occur for DNA site sizes shorter than usual in a sequence-dependent manner. Concurrently, NCp binding is efficient on a G'2 quadruplex also derived from the HIV-1 central DNA flap. Apart from their implication within the DNA flap, these data lead to a model for the nucleic acid architecture within the viral nucleocapsid, where adjacent single-stranded tails and NCp promote a compact assembly of NCp and nucleic acid growing from stably and primary bound NCp.