Mutations Proximal to Sites of Autoproteolysis and the α-Helix That Co-evolve under Drug Pressure Modulate the Autoprocessing and Vitality of HIV-1 Protease

Biochemistry. 2015 Sep 8;54(35):5414-24. doi: 10.1021/acs.biochem.5b00759. Epub 2015 Aug 21.


N-Terminal self-cleavage (autoprocessing) of the HIV-1 protease precursor is crucial for liberating the active dimer. Under drug pressure, evolving mutations are predicted to modulate autoprocessing, and the reduced catalytic activity of the mature protease (PR) is likely compensated by enhanced conformational/dimer stability and reduced susceptibility to self-degradation (autoproteolysis). One such highly evolved, multidrug resistant protease, PR20, bears 19 mutations contiguous to sites of autoproteolysis in retroviral proteases, namely clusters 1-3 comprising residues 30-37, 60-67, and 88-95, respectively, accounting for 11 of the 19 mutations. By systematically replacing corresponding clusters in PR with those of PR20, and vice versa, we assess their influence on the properties mentioned above and observe no strict correlation. A 10-35-fold decrease in the cleavage efficiency of peptide substrates by PR20, relative to PR, is reflected by an only ∼4-fold decrease in the rate of Gag processing with no change in cleavage order. Importantly, optimal N-terminal autoprocessing requires all 19 PR20 mutations as evaluated in vitro using the model precursor TFR-PR20 in which PR is flanked by the transframe region. Substituting PR20 cluster 3 into TFR-PR (TFR-PR(PR20-3)) requires the presence of PR20 cluster 1 and/or 2 for autoprocessing. In accordance, substituting PR clusters 1 and 2 into TFR-PR20 affects the rate of autoprocessing more drastically (>300-fold) compared to that of TFR-PR(PR20-3) because of the cumulative effect of eight noncluster mutations present in TFR-PR20(PR-12). Overall, these studies imply that drug resistance involves a complex synchronized selection of mutations modulating all of the properties mentioned above governing PR regulation and function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Binding Sites / physiology
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple / physiology
  • HIV Protease / genetics*
  • HIV Protease / metabolism*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Proteolysis*


  • HIV Protease
  • p16 protease, Human immunodeficiency virus 1