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Protease activity within nascently released human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) particles is responsible for the cleavage of the viral polyproteins Gag and Gag-Pol into their constituent parts, which results in the subsequent condensation of the mature conical core surrounding the viral genomic RNA. Concomitant with viral maturation is a conformational change in the packaged viral RNA from a loosely associated dimer into a more thermodynamically stable form. In this study we used suboptimal concentrations of two protease inhibitors, lopinavir and atazanavir, to study their effects on Gag polyprotein processing and on the properties of the RNA in treated virions. Analysis of the treated virions demonstrated that even with high levels of inhibition of viral infectivity (IC(90)), most of the Gag and Gag-Pol polyproteins were processed, although slight but significant increases in processing intermediates of Gag were detected. Drug treatments also caused a significant increase in the proportion of viruses displaying either immature or aberrant mature morphologies. The aberrant mature particles were characterized by an electron-dense region at the viral periphery and an electron-lucent core structure in the viral center, possibly indicating exclusion of the genomic RNA from these viral cores. Intriguingly, drug treatments caused only a slight decrease in overall thermodynamic stability of the viral RNA dimer, suggesting that the dimeric viral RNA was able to mature in the absence of correct core condensation.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





152 - 160


Atazanavir Sulfate, Dimerization, HIV Protease, HIV Protease Inhibitors, HIV-1, Humans, Lopinavir, Microscopy, Electron, Transmission, Oligopeptides, Pyridines, Pyrimidinones, RNA, Viral, Virion, gag Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus