The HIV-1 ribosomal frameshift element is highly structured, regulates translation of all virally encoded enzymes, and is a promising therapeutic target. The prior model for this motif contains two helices separated by a three-nucleotide bulge. Modifications to this model were suggested by SHAPE chemical probing of an entire HIV-1 RNA genome. Novel features of the SHAPE-directed model include alternate helical conformations and a larger, more complex structure. These structural elements also support the presence of a secondary frameshift site within the frameshift domain. Here, we use oligonucleotide-directed structure perturbation, probing in the presence of formamide, and in-virion experiments to examine these models. Our data support a model in which the frameshift domain is anchored by a stable helix outside the conventional domain. Less stable helices within the domain can switch from the SHAPE-predicted to the two-helix conformation. Translational frameshifting assays with frameshift domain mutants support a functional role for the interactions predicted by and specific to the SHAPE-directed model. These results reveal that the HIV-1 frameshift domain is a complex, dynamic structure and underscore the importance of analyzing folding in the context of full-length RNAs.
Low, Justin T et al. “Structure and dynamics of the HIV-1 frameshift element RNA.” Biochemistry vol. 53,26 (2014): 4282-91. doi:10.1021/bi5004926