J Virol. 2010 Oct;84(19):9817-30.

Divergent evolution in reverse transcriptase (RT) of HIV-1 group O and M lineages: impact on structure, fitness, and sensitivity to nonnucleoside RT inhibitors.

Tebit DM, Lobritz M, Lalonde M, Immonen T, Singh K, Sarafianos S, Herchenröder O, Kräusslich HG, Arts EJ.
Natural evolution in primate lentiviral reverse transcriptase (RT) appears to have been constrained by the necessity to maintain function within an asymmetric protein composed of two identical primary amino acid sequences (66 kDa), of which one is cleaved (51 kDa). In this study, a detailed phylogenetic analysis now segregates groups O and M into clusters based on a cysteine or tyrosine residue located at position 181 of RT and linked to other signature residues. Divergent evolution of two group O (C181 or Y181) and the main (Y181 only) HIV-1 lineages did not appreciably impact RT activity or function. Group O RT structural models, based on group M subtype B RT crystal structures, revealed that most evolutionarily linked amino acids appear on a surface-exposed region of one subunit while in a noncatalytic RT pocket of the other subunit. This pocket binds nonnucleoside RT inhibitors (NNRTI); therefore, NNRTI sensitivity was used to probe enzyme differences in these group O and M lineages. In contrast to observations showing acquired drug resistance associated with fitness loss, the C181Y mutation in the C181 group O lineage resulted in a loss of intrinsic NNRTI resistance and was accompanied by fitness loss. Other mutations linked to the NNRTI-resistant C181 lineage also resulted in altered NNRTI sensitivity and a net fitness cost. Based on RT asymmetry and conservation of the intricate reverse transcription process, millions of years of divergent primate lentivirus evolution may be constrained to discrete mutations that appear primarily in the nonfunctional, solvent-accessible NNRTI binding pocket.
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