The significance and location of sequence-specific information in the CAR/RRE, the target sequence for the Rev protein of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1), have been controversial. We present here a comprehensive experimental and computational approach combining mutational analysis, phylogenetic comparison, and thermodynamic structure calculations with a systematic strategy for distinguishing sequence-specific information from secondary structural information. A target sequence analog was designed to have a secondary structure identical to that of the wild type but a sequence that differs from that of the wild type at every position. This analog was inactive. By exchanging fragments between the wild-type sequence and the inactive analog, we were able to detect an unexpectedly extensive distribution of sequence specificity throughout the CAR/RRE. The analysis enabled us to identify a critically important sequence-specific region, region IIb in the Rev-binding domain, strongly supports a proposed base-pairing interaction in this location, and places forceful constraints on mechanisms of Rev action. The generalized approach presented can be applied to other systems
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