Nuclear magnetic resonance and dynamic characterization of the intrinsically disordered HIV-1 Tat protein

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Shojania, Shaheen
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The HIV-1 transactivator of transcription (Tat) is a protein essential for both viral gene expression and virus replication. Tat is an RNA-binding protein that, in cooperation with host cell factors cyclin T1 and cyclin-dependent kinase 9, regulates transcription at the level of elongation. Tat also interacts with numerous other intracellular and extracellular proteins, and is implicated in a number of pathogenic processes. The Tat protein is encoded by two exons and is 101 residues in length. The first exon encodes a 72-residue molecule that activates transcription with the same proficiency as the full-length protein. The physico-chemical properties of Tat make it a particularly challenging target for structural studies: Tat contains seven cysteine residues, six of which are essential for transactivation, and is highly susceptible to oxidative cross-linking and aggregation. In addition, a basic segment (residues 48-57) gives the protein a high net positive charge of +12 at pH 7, endowing it with a high affinity for anionic polymers and surfaces. In order to study the structure of Tat, both alone and in complex with partner molecules, we have developed a system for the bacterial expression and purification of polyhistidine-tagged and isotopically enriched (in 15N and 15N /13C) recombinant HIV-1 Tat1-72 (BH10 isolate) that yields large amounts of protein. These preparations have facilitated the assignment of 95% of the non-proline backbone resonances using heteronuclear 3-dimensional nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. Analysis by mass spectrometry and NMR demonstrate that the cysteine-rich Tat protein is unambiguously reduced and monomeric in aqueous solution at pH 4. NMR chemical shifts and coupling constants suggest that it exists in a disordered conformation. Line broadening and multiple peaks in the cysteine-rich and core regions suggest that transient folding occurs in two of the five sequence domains. NMR relaxation parameters were measured and analysed by spectral density and model-free approaches both confirming the lack of structure throughout the length of the molecule. The absence of a fixed conformation and the observation of fast dynamics are consistent with the ability of the Tat protein to interact with a wide variety of proteins and nucleic acid lending further support to the concept that Tat exists as an intrinsically disordered protein.
HIV-1 Tat, NMR, relaxation, dynamics, protein characterization, intrinsic disorder