The retroviral enzymes

Annu Rev Biochem. 1994;63:133-73. doi: 10.1146/


We have reviewed the current state of knowledge concerning the three enzymes common to all retroviruses. It is informative to consider them together, since their activities are interrelated. The enzymatic activities of RT and IN depend on processing of polyprotein precursors by PR. Furthermore, RT produces the viral DNA substrate to be acted upon by IN. All three of these retroviral enzymes function as multimers, and it is conceivable that specific polyprotein precursor interactions facilitate the multimerization of all of them. The multimeric structures of the enzymes are, however, quite different. PR is a symmetric homodimer whose subunits contribute to formation of a single active site. RT (of HIV, at least) is an asymmetric heterodimer in which one subunit appears to contribute all of the catalytic activity and the second is catalytically inactive, but structurally important. IN also functions minimally as a dimer for processing and joining. The retroviral enzymes represent important targets for antiviral therapy. Considerable effort continues to be focused on developing PR and RT inhibitors. As more is learned about IN, such efforts can be extended. Since these enzymes are critical at different stages in the retroviral life cycle, one optimistic hope is that a combination of drugs that target all of them may be maximally effective as therapy for AIDS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • DNA Nucleotidyltransferases / physiology*
  • Endopeptidases / physiology*
  • HIV Protease / physiology
  • HIV Reverse Transcriptase
  • Humans
  • Integrases
  • RNA-Directed DNA Polymerase / physiology*
  • Retroviridae / enzymology*
  • Virus Integration


  • DNA Nucleotidyltransferases
  • Integrases
  • HIV Reverse Transcriptase
  • RNA-Directed DNA Polymerase
  • Endopeptidases
  • HIV Protease