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The HIV-1 frameshift site (FS) plays a critical role in viral replication. During translation, the HIV-1 FS transitions from a 3-helix to a 2-helix junction RNA secondary structure. The 2-helix junction structure contains a GGA bulge, and purine-rich bulges are common motifs in RNA secondary structure. Here, we investigate the dynamics of the HIV-1 FS 2-helix junction RNA. Interhelical motions were studied under different ionic conditions using NMR order tensor analysis of residual dipolar couplings. In 150 mM potassium, the RNA adopts a 43°(±4°) interhelical bend angle (β) and displays large amplitude, anisotropic interhelical motions characterized by a 0.52(±0.04) internal generalized degree of order (GDOint) and distinct order tensor asymmetries for its two helices (η = 0.26(±0.04) and 0.5(±0.1)). These motions are effectively quenched by addition of 2 mM magnesium (GDOint = 0.87(±0.06)), which promotes a near-coaxial conformation (β = 15°(±6°)) of the two helices. Base stacking in the bulge was investigated using the fluorescent purine analog 2-aminopurine. These results indicate that magnesium stabilizes extrahelical conformations of the bulge nucleotides, thereby promoting coaxial stacking of helices. These results are highly similar to previous studies of the HIV transactivation response RNA, despite a complete lack of sequence similarity between the two RNAs. Thus, the conformational space of these RNAs is largely determined by the topology of their interhelical junctions.

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Mouzakis, Kathryn D et al. “Dynamic motions of the HIV-1 frameshift site RNA.” Biophysical journal vol. 108,3 (2015): 644-54. doi:10.1016/j.bpj.2014.12.006