The 96-amino acid Vpr protein is the only virion-associated regulatory protein encoded by the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1). Vpr incorporation into the viral particle is most likely due to an interaction with a viral structural protein. Recent data have shown that DNA encoding for the p55 Gag precursor protein (Pr55gag, is the minimal viral genetic information necessary for Vpr incorporation. Other studies have suggested that the p6 portion of Pr55gag, which is unique to lentiviruses, is involved in Vpr incorporation. To investigate the mechanism of incorporation of Vpr into HIV-1 viri-ons, COS-7 cells were cotransfected with ptrENV, an expression vector that encodes all of the HIV-1 regulatory proteins including Rev and Vpr, and different constructs of pIIIgagCAR, a rev-dependent Gag expression plasmid that encodes Pr55gag and the viral protease. Virions produced from gag constructs containing a premature p6 termination codon at positions Leu-1, Ser-17, Tyr-36, or Leu-44 lacked detectable Vpr. In contrast, gag constructs with double Pro-10-Pro-II substitutions for Leu-10-Leu-11 or a premature termination codon at position Pro-49 of p6 were still able to incorporate Vpr, however, with lower efficiency than wild type. The mutations described in this study affected directly two short regions within the p6 domain, which are highly conserved among primate immunodeficiency viruses. Our results suggest that the conserved (P-T/S-A-P-P) and (L-X-S-L-F-G) motifs located near the N-terminus and C-terminus, respectively, of the p6 domain of Gag are critical for Vpr incorporation into HIV-1 virions.
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