Immature HIV-1 assembles from Gag dimers leaving partial hexamers at lattice edges as potential substrates for proteolytic maturation

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Jan 19;118(3):e2020054118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2020054118.


The CA (capsid) domain of immature HIV-1 Gag and the adjacent spacer peptide 1 (SP1) play a key role in viral assembly by forming a lattice of CA hexamers, which adapts to viral envelope curvature by incorporating small lattice defects and a large gap at the site of budding. This lattice is stabilized by intrahexameric and interhexameric CA-CA interactions, which are important in regulating viral assembly and maturation. We applied subtomogram averaging and classification to determine the oligomerization state of CA at lattice edges and found that CA forms partial hexamers. These structures reveal the network of interactions formed by CA-SP1 at the lattice edge. We also performed atomistic molecular dynamics simulations of CA-CA interactions stabilizing the immature lattice and partial CA-SP1 helical bundles. Free energy calculations reveal increased propensity for helix-to-coil transitions in partial hexamers compared to complete six-helix bundles. Taken together, these results suggest that the CA dimer is the basic unit of lattice assembly, partial hexamers exist at lattice edges, these are in a helix-coil dynamic equilibrium, and partial helical bundles are more likely to unfold, representing potential sites for HIV-1 maturation initiation.

Keywords: HIV-1; cryo-electron tomography; maturation; molecular dynamics simulations; virus assembly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Capsid / chemistry
  • Capsid / ultrastructure
  • Capsid Proteins / genetics
  • Capsid Proteins / ultrastructure*
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • HIV Infections / genetics*
  • HIV Infections / virology
  • HIV Seropositivity
  • HIV-1 / genetics*
  • HIV-1 / pathogenicity
  • HIV-1 / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Protein Multimerization / genetics
  • Proteolysis
  • Sp1 Transcription Factor / chemistry
  • Sp1 Transcription Factor / genetics
  • Sp1 Transcription Factor / ultrastructure*
  • Virion / genetics
  • Virion / pathogenicity
  • Virus Assembly / genetics
  • gag Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus / chemistry
  • gag Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus / genetics
  • gag Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus / ultrastructure*


  • Capsid Proteins
  • Sp1 Transcription Factor
  • gag Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus