Chaoyi Xu
Douglas K. Fischer
Sanela Rankovic
Wen Li
Rob Dick
Brent Runge
Roman Zadorozhnyi
Jinwoo Ahn
Christopher Aiken
Tatyana Polenova
Alan N. Engelman
Zandrea Ambrose
Itay Rousso
Juan R. Perilla
Reverse transcription, an essential event in the HIV-1 lifecycle, requires deoxynucleotide triphosphates (dNTPs) to fuel DNA synthesis, thus requiring penetration of dNTPs into the viral core. The central cavity of the capsid protein (CA) hexamer reveals itself as a plausible channel that allows the passage of dNTPs into assembled capsids. Nevertheless, the molecular mechanism of nucleotide import into the capsid remains unknown. Employing all-atom molecular dynamics simulations, we established that cooperative binding between nucleotides inside a CA hexamer cavity results in energetically-favorable conditions for passive translocation of dNTPs into the HIV-1 capsid. Furthermore, binding of the host cell metabolite inositol hexakisphosphate (IP6) enhances dNTP import, while binding of synthesized molecules like benzenehexacarboxylic acid (BHC) inhibits it. The enhancing effect on reverse transcription by IP6 and the consequences of interactions between CA and nucleotides were corroborated using atomic force microscopy, transmission electron microscopy, and virological assays. Collectively, our results provide an atomistic description of the permeability of the HIV-1 capsid to small molecules and reveal a novel mechanism for the involvement of metabolites in HIV-1 capsid stabilization, nucleotide import and reverse transcription.