A temperature-sensitive (ts) human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) reverse transcriptase (RT) mutant was generated by charged-cluster-to-alanine mutagenesis. The mutant virus, containing three charged residues within the RT finger domain changed to alanine (K64A, K66A, and D67A), replicated normally at 34.5 but not 39.5°C. Quantitating virus particle production by p24 antigen capture or virion-associated RT activity and virus infectivity by the MAGI cell assay, we found that (i) mutant virions produced at the permissive temperature were indistinguishable from wild-type virus in assays performed at the nonpermissive temperature, suggesting that the ts mutation did not impair early steps in the virus replication cycle and that the mutant RT enzyme was not ts; and (ii) virus particle production in cells transfected with the ts mutant at the nonpermissive temperature was comparable to that of wild-type virus. However, the particle-associated RT activity and infectivity of mutant virions produced at the nonpermissive temperature were greatly reduced when assays were conducted at the permissive temperature. These results are consistent with an irreversible ts event affecting RT that occurs during virus particle production. Radioimmunoprecipitation analyses revealed that both p66 and p51 RT subunits were absent from mutant virions generated at 39.5°C. The presence of normal levels of HIV-1 integrase in mutant particles produced at the nonpermissive temperature was inconsistent with defective Gag-Pol synthesis or Gag-Pol incorporation into progeny virions. Furthermore, wild-type levels of the mutant Pr160gag-pol were detected in virions produced at the nonpermissive temperature when the HIV-1 protease was inactivated by site-specific mutagenesis. Taken together, these results are most consistent with a ts defect affecting the degradation or aberrant processing of the mutated RT during its processing/maturation within nascent particles
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