We have selectively mutagenized specific residues at the junction between the protease (PR) and reverse transcriptase (RT) genes of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) to study the effects of PR-RT fusion proteins in the context of a full-length, infectious proviral construct. Mutant viruses derived from COS-7 cells transfected with this construct were analyzed in regard to each of viral replication, maturation, and infectivity. Immunoblot analysis revealed that the mutation prevented cleavage between the PR and RT proteins and that both existed as a PR-RT fusion protein in each of cellular and viral lysates. Interestingly, intracellular PR that existed within the PR-RT fusion protein remained functionally active, whereby HIV-1 precursor proteins were processed efficiently. Furthermore, the RT component of the fusion protein also retained its enzymatic activity as shown in RT assays. Electron microscopy revealed that the mutant viruses containing the PR-RT fusion protein possessed wild-type morphology. These viruses also displayed wild-type sensitivities to inhibitors of each of the HIV-1 PR and RT activities. However, viruses containing the PR-RT fusion protein were 20 times less infectious than wild-type viruses. This defect was further pronounced when mutated Gag-Pol proteins were overexpressed as a consequence of an additional mutation that interfered with frameshifting. Thus, unlike cleavage site mutations at the N terminus of PR, a cleavage site mutation between PR and RT did not affect the enzymatic activities of either PR or RT and viruses containing PR-RT fusion proteins were viable.
Copyright 1998 Academic Press