The human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) integrase (IN) is a critical enzyme involved in infection. It catalyzes two reactions to integrate the viral cDNA into the host genome, 3′ processing and strand transfer, but the dynamic behavior of the active site during catalysis of these two processes remains poorly characterized. NMR spectroscopy can reveal important structural details about enzyme mechanisms, but to date the IN catalytic core domain has proven resistant to such an analysis. Here, we present the first NMR studies of a soluble variant of the catalytic core domain. The NMR chemical shifts are found to corroborate structures observed in crystals, and confirm prior studies suggesting that the α4 helix extends toward the active site. We also observe a dramatic improvement in NMR spectra with increasing MgCl2 concentration. This improvement suggests a structural transition not only near the active site residues but also throughout the entire molecule as IN binds Mg2+. In particular, the stability of the core domain is linked to the conformation of its C-terminal helix, which has implications for relative domain orientation in the full-length enzyme. 15N relaxation experiments further show that, although conformationally flexible, the catalytic loop of IN is not fully disordered in the absence of DNA. Indeed, automated chemical shift-based modeling of the active site loop reveals several stable clusters that show striking similarity to a recent crystal structure of prototype foamy virus IN bound to DNA
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