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Hepadnaviruses, including the pathogenic hepatitis B virus (HBV), replicate their small DNA genomes through protein-primed reverse transcription, mediated by the terminal protein (TP) domain in their P proteins and an RNA stem-loop, ε, on the pregenomic RNA (pgRNA). No direct structural data are available for P proteins, but their reverse transcriptase (RT) domains contain motifs that are conserved in all RTs (box A to box G), implying a similar architecture; however, experimental support for this notion is limited. Exploiting assays available for duck HBV (DHBV) but not the HBV P protein, we assessed the functional consequences of numerous mutations in box E, which forms the DNA primer grip in human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) RT. This substructure coordinates primer 3'-end positioning and RT subdomain movements during the polymerization cycle and is a prime target for nonnucleosidic RT inhibitors (NNRTIs) of HIV-1 RT. Box E was indeed critical for DHBV replication, with the mutations affecting the folding, ε RNA interactions, and polymerase activity of the P protein in a position- and amino acid side chain-dependent fashion similar to that of HIV-1 RT. Structural similarity to HIV-1 RT was underlined by molecular modeling and was confirmed by the replication activity of chimeric P proteins carrying box E, or even box C to box E, from HIV-1 RT. Hence, box E in the DHBV P protein and likely the HBV P protein forms a primer grip-like structure that may provide a new target for anti-HBV NNRTIs.


Yong-Xiang Wang, Cheng Luo, Dan Zhao, Jürgen Beck, Michael Nassal. Extensive mutagenesis of the conserved box E motif in duck hepatitis B virus P protein reveals multiple functions in replication and a common structure with the primer grip in HIV-1 reverse transcriptase. Journal of virology. 2012 Jun;86(12):6394-407

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PMID: 22514339

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