Following excision from the Gag-Pol polyprotein, HIV-1 reverse transcriptase is released as an asymmetric homodimer comprising two p66 subunits that are structurally dissimilar but identical in amino acid sequence. Subsequent cleavage of the RNase H domain from only one of the subunits, denoted p66', results in the formation of the mature p66/p51 enzyme in which catalytic activity resides in the p66 subunit, and the p51 subunit (derived from p66') provides a supporting structural scaffold. Here, we probe the interaction of the p66/p66' asymmetric reverse transcriptase precursor with HIV-1 protease by pulsed Q-band double electron-electron resonance EPR spectroscopy to measure distances between nitroxide labels introduced at surface-engineered cysteine residues. The data suggest that the flexible, exposed linker between the RNaseH and connection domains in the open state of the p66' subunit binds to the active site of protease in a configuration that is similar to that of extended peptide substrates.
Keywords: DEER; EPR; HIV-1 protease; HIV-1 reverse transcriptase precursor; deuteration.
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