Structure of the HIV-1 full-length capsid protein in a conformationally trapped unassembled state induced by small-molecule binding.
Du S., Betts L., Yang R., Shi H., Concel J., Ahn J., Aiken C., Zhang P., Yeh JI.
The capsid (CA) protein plays crucial roles in HIV infection and replication, essential to viral maturation. The absence of high-resolution structural data on unassembled CA hinders the development of antivirals effective in inhibiting assembly. Unlike enzymes that have targetable, functional substrate-binding sites, the CA does not have a known site that affects catalytic or other innate activity, which can be more readily targeted in drug development efforts. We report the crystal structure of the HIV-1 CA, revealing the domain organization in the context of the wild-type full-length (FL) unassembled CA. The FL CA adopts an antiparallel dimer configuration, exhibiting a domain organization sterically incompatible with capsid assembly. A small compound, generated in situ during crystallization, is bound tightly at a hinge site ("H site"), indicating that binding at this interdomain region stabilizes the ADP conformation. Electron microscopy studies on nascent crystals reveal both dimeric and hexameric lattices coexisting within a single condition, in agreement with the interconvertibility of oligomeric forms and supporting the feasibility of promoting assembly-incompetent dimeric states. Solution characterization in the presence of the H-site ligand shows predominantly unassembled dimeric CA, even under conditions that promote assembly. Our structure elucidation of the HIV-1 FL CA and characterization of a potential allosteric binding site provides three-dimensional views of an assembly-defective conformation, a state targeted in, and thus directly relevant to, inhibitor development. Based on our findings, we propose an unprecedented means of preventing CA assembly, by "conformationally trapping" CA in assembly-incompetent conformational states induced by H-site binding.