Retroviral revXerse transcriptases (RTs) have an associated RNase H activity that can cleave RNA-DNA duplexes with considerable precision. We believe that the structure of the RNA-DNA duplexes in the context of RT determines the specificity of RNase H cleavage. To test this idea, we treated three related groups of synthetic RNA-DNA hybrids with either Moloney murine leukemia virus (MLV) RT or human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) RT. All of the hybrids were prepared using the same 81-base RNA template. The first series of RNase H substrates was prepared with complementary DNA oligonucleotides of different lengths, ranging from 6 to 20 nucleotides, all of which shared a common 5' end and were successively shorter at their 3' ends. The second series of oligonucleotides had a common 3' end but shorter 5' ends. The DNA oligonucleotides in the third series were all 20 bases long but had non-complementary stretches at either the 5' end, 3' end, or both ends. Several themes have emerged from the experiments with these RNA-DNA duplexes. (1) Both HIV-1 RT and MLV RT cleave fairly efficiently if the duplex region is at least eight bases long, but not if it is shorter. (2) Although, under the conditions we have used, both enzymes require the substrate to have a region of RNA-DNA duplex, both MLV RT and HIV-1 RT can cleave RNA outside the region that is part of the RNA-DNA duplex. (3) The polymerase domain of HIV-1 RT uses certain mismatched segments of RNA-DNA to position the enzyme for RNase H cleavage, whereas the polymerase domain of MLV RT does not use the same mismatched segments to define the position for RNase H cleavage. (4) For HIV-1 RT, a mismatched region near the RNase H domain can interfere with RNase H cleavage; cleavage is usually (but not always) more efficient if the mismatched segment is deleted. These results are discussed in regard to the structure of HIV-1 RT and the differences between HIV-1 RT and MLV RT.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Structural Biology
- Molecular Biology
- RNase H
- Reverse transcriptase