HIV-1 Tat amino acid residues that influence Tat-TAR binding affinity: a scoping review

BMC Infect Dis. 2023 Mar 17;23(1):164. doi: 10.1186/s12879-023-08123-0.


HIV-1 remains a global health concern and to date, nearly 38 million people are living with HIV. The complexity of HIV-1 pathogenesis and its subsequent prevalence is influenced by several factors including the HIV-1 subtype. HIV-1 subtype variation extends to sequence variation in the amino acids of the HIV-1 viral proteins. Of particular interest is the transactivation of transcription (Tat) protein due to its key function in viral transcription. The Tat protein predominantly functions by binding to the transactivation response (TAR) RNA element to activate HIV-1 transcriptional elongation. Subtype-specific Tat protein sequence variation influences Tat-TAR binding affinity. Despite several studies investigating Tat-TAR binding, it is not clear which regions of the Tat protein and/or individual Tat amino acid residues may contribute to TAR binding affinity. We, therefore, conducted a scoping review on studies investigating Tat-TAR binding. We aimed to synthesize the published data to determine (1) the regions of the Tat protein that may be involved in TAR binding, (2) key Tat amino acids involved in TAR binding and (3) if Tat subtype-specific variation influences TAR binding. A total of thirteen studies met our inclusion criteria and the key findings were that (1) both N-terminal and C-terminal amino acids outside the basic domain (47-59) may be important in increasing Tat-TAR binding affinity, (2) substitution of the amino acids Lysine and Arginine (47-59) resulted in a reduction in binding affinity to TAR, and (3) none of the included studies have investigated Tat subtype-specific substitutions and therefore no commentary could be made regarding which subtype may have a higher Tat-TAR binding affinity. Future studies investigating Tat-TAR binding should therefore use full-length Tat proteins and compare subtype-specific variations. Studies of such a nature may help explain why we see differential pathogenesis and prevalence when comparing HIV-1 subtypes.

Keywords: Molecular binding; Subtype variation; Tat polymorphism; Transactivation of transcription; Transactivation response RNA element.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / genetics
  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • HIV Long Terminal Repeat
  • HIV-1* / genetics
  • Humans
  • RNA, Viral / metabolism
  • tat Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus / genetics
  • tat Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus / metabolism


  • tat Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus
  • Amino Acids
  • RNA, Viral