Background: Deoxynucleoside triphosphates (dNTPs) are the normal substrates for DNA synthesis catalyzed by polymerases such as HIV-1 reverse transcriptase (RT). However, substantial amounts of deoxynucleoside diphosphates (dNDPs) are also present in the cell. Use of dNDPs in HIV-1 DNA synthesis could have significant implications for the efficacy of nucleoside RT inhibitors such as AZT which are first line therapeutics for treatment of HIV infection. Our earlier work on HIV-1 reverse transcriptase (RT) suggested that the interaction between the gamma-phosphate of the incoming dNTP and RT residue K65 in the active site is not essential for dNTP insertion, implying that this polymerase may be able to insert dNDPs in addition to dNTPs.
Methodology/principal findings: We examined the ability of recombinant wild type (wt) and mutant RTs with substitutions at residue K65 to utilize a dNDP substrate in primer extension reactions. We found that wild type HIV-1 RT indeed catalyzes incorporation of dNDP substrates whereas RT with mutations of residue K65 were unable to catalyze this reaction. Wild type HIV-1 RT also catalyzed the reverse reaction, inorganic phosphate-dependent phosphorolysis. Nucleotide-mediated phosphorolytic removal of chain-terminating 3'-terminal nucleoside inhibitors such as AZT forms the basis for HIV-1 resistance to such drugs, and this removal is enhanced by thymidine analog mutations (TAMs). We found that both wt and TAM-containing RTs were able to catalyze Pi-mediated phosphorolysis of 3'-terminal AZT at physiological levels of Pi with an efficacy similar to that for ATP-dependent AZT-excision.
Conclusions: We have identified two new catalytic functions of HIV-1 RT, the use of dNDPs as substrates for DNA synthesis, and the use of Pi as substrate for phosphorolytic removal of primer 3'-terminal nucleotides. The ability to insert dNDPs has been documented for only one other DNA polymerase, the RB69 DNA polymerase and the reverse reaction employing inorganic phosphate has not been documented for any DNA polymerase. Importantly, our results show that Pi-mediated phosphorolysis can contribute to AZT resistance and indicates that factors that influence HIV resistance to AZT are more complex than previously appreciated.