The human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) capsid (CA) protein forms a conical lattice around the viral ribonucleoprotein complex (vRNP) consisting of a dimeric viral genome and associated proteins, together constituting the viral core. Upon entry into target cells, the viral core undergoes a process termed uncoating, during which CA molecules are shed from the lattice. Although the timing and degree of uncoating are important for reverse transcription and integration, the molecular basis of this phenomenon remains unclear. Using complementary approaches, we assessed the impact of core destabilization on the intrinsic stability of the CA lattice in vitro and fates of viral core components in infected cells. We found that substitutions in CA can impact the intrinsic stability of the CA lattice in vitro in the absence of vRNPs, which mirrored findings from an assessment of CA stability in virions. Altering CA stability tended to increase the propensity to form morphologically aberrant particles, in which the vRNPs were mislocalized between the CA lattice and the viral lipid envelope. Importantly, destabilization of the CA lattice led to premature dissociation of CA from vRNPs in target cells, which was accompanied by proteasomal-independent losses of the viral genome and integrase enzyme. Overall, our studies show that the CA lattice protects the vRNP from untimely degradation in target cells and provide the mechanistic basis of how CA stability influences reverse transcription. IMPORTANCE The human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) capsid (CA) protein forms a conical lattice around the viral RNA genome and the associated viral enzymes and proteins, together constituting the viral core. Upon infection of a new cell, viral cores are released into the cytoplasm where they undergo a process termed “uncoating,” i.e., shedding of CA molecules from the conical lattice. Although proper and timely uncoating has been shown to be important for reverse transcription, the molecular mechanisms that link these two events remain poorly understood. In this study, we show that destabilization of the CA lattice leads to premature dissociation of CA from viral cores, which exposes the viral genome and the integrase enzyme for degradation in target cells. Thus, our studies demonstrate that the CA lattice protects the viral ribonucleoprotein complexes from untimely degradation in target cells and provide the first causal link between how CA stability affects reverse transcription.
- RNA degradation
- Reverse transcription