Tat acetylation modulates assembly of a viral-host RNA-protein transcription complex

Iván D'Orso, Alan D. Frankel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


HIV-1 Tat enhances viral transcription elongation by forming a ribonucleoprotein complex with transactivating responsive (TAR) RNA and P-TEFb, an elongation factor composed of cyclin T1 (CycT1) and Cdk9 that phosphorylates the C-terminal domain of RNA polymerase II. Previous studies have shown that Lys-28 in the activation domain (AD) of Tat is essential for HIV-1 transcription and replication and is acetylated by p300/CBP-associated factor (PCAF), but the mechanistic basis of the Lys-28 requirement is unknown. Here, we show that Lys-28 acetylation modulates the affinity and stability of HIV-1 Tat-CycT1-TAR complexes by enhancing an interaction with the CycT1 Tat-TAR recognition motif. High-affinity assembly correlates strongly with stimulation of transcription elongation in vitro and Tat activation in vivo. In marked contrast, bovine lentiviral Tat proteins have evolved a high-affinity TAR interaction that does not require PCAF-mediated acetylation of the Tat AD or CycT1 for RNA binding, whereas HIV-2 Tat has evolved an intermediate mechanism that uses a duplicated TAR element and CycT1 to enhance RNA affinity and consequently transcription activation. The coevolution of Tat acetylation, CycT1 dependence, and TAR binding affinity is seen in viral replication assays using Tat proteins that rely on CycT1 for TAR binding but are acetylation deficient, where compensatory mutations rapidly accrue in TAR to generate high-affinity, CycT1-independent complexes reminiscent of the bovine viruses. Thus, lysine acetylation can be used to modulate and evolve the strength of a viral-host RNA-protein complex, thereby tuning the levels of transcription elongation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3101-3106
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number9
StatePublished - Mar 3 2009


  • Coevolution
  • Histone acetyltransferase
  • Lentivirus
  • P-TEFb
  • RNA polymerase II

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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