Human immunodeficiency virus nucleocapsid protein accelerates strand transfer of the terminally redundant sequences involved in reverse transcription.
During the initial stages of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) replication, 5'-terminally redundant (R') DNA, the minus strand synthesized as the complement of the 5'-long terminal repeat (LTR) terminal redundancy, must anneal to the 3'-LTR RNA to enable template transfer. The (R')DNA sequences contain the site involved in the tat-TAR interaction and extensive secondary structures that strongly interfere with annealing. The novel annealing reaction between (R')DNA and 3'-LTR RNA follows first-order kinetics, consistent with an unusually slow unfolding of the secondary structure as the rate-limiting step followed by a more rapid nucleation step. The HIV nucleocapsid protein accelerates the annealing reaction 3000-fold under optimal conditions. This acceleration may be necessary for strand transfer to efficiently occur in vivo and may provide a target for anti-HIV chemotherapeutic agents.