Mutagenesis of cysteine 280 of the reverse transcriptase of human immunodeficiency virus type-1: The effects on the ribonuclease H activity

Ziv Sevilya, Shoshana Loya, Amit Duvshani, Noam Adir, Amnon Hizi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Retroviral reverse transcriptases (RTs) have both DNA polymerase and ribonuclease H (RNase H) activities. The RT of human immunodeficiency virus type-1 (HIV-1) is composed of two subunits. The p51, which is the smaller subunit, shares with the larger p66 subunit the same amino-terminal part (which encompasses the DNA polymerase domain) and lacks the carboxyl-terminal segment of the p66 (which is the RNase H domain). The structure of the polymerase domain of HIV-1 RT resembles a right hand (with fingers, palm and thumb subdomains) linked to the RNase H domain. Chemical modifications by thiol-specific reagents of cysteine 280, located in α helix I in the thumb subdomain of the polymerase domain, affect substantially only the RNase H activity. Also, the substitution of a serine for C280 did not alter any of the RT activities. Here we have systematically modified the C280 residue to either of the following residues: W, P, H, L, M, Y, Q, E or R. Only the first two mutations lead to a marked reduction in the RNase H activity, whereas none of the mutations affected the polymerase function to a significant extent. As expected, due to their impaired RNase H, the C280W and C280P mutants also had a very low DNA strand-transfer activity. It is also apparent from subunit-directed mutagenesis that each of the RT subunits contributes to the level of RNase H activity, yet the contribution of the p51 subunit to this activity is somewhat higher than that of the p66. Steady-state kinetic analyses have indicated that the RNase H activity was reduced mainly due to the sharp increase in the Km rather than changes in the kcat values. This suggests that the modifications of C280 lead to an impaired affinity of HIV-1 RT towards the RNA-DNA substrate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-30
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 14 Mar 2003


  • DNA polymerase
  • HIV-1
  • RNase H
  • Reverse transcriptase


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