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The Gag precursor is the major structural protein of the virion of human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1). Capsid protein (CA), a cleavage product of Gag, plays an essential role in virus assembly both in Gag-precursor multimerization and in capsid core formation. The carboxy-terminal domain (CTD) of CA contains 20 residues that are highly conserved across retroviruses and constitute the major homology region (MHR). Genetic evidence implies a role for the MHR in interactions between Gag precursors during the assembly of the virus, but the structural basis for this role remains elusive. This paper describes a novel triclinic structure of the HIV-1 CA CTD at 1.6 Å resolution with two canonical dimers of CA CTD in the asymmetric unit. The canonical dimers form a newly identified packing interface where interactions of four conserved MHR residues take place. This is the first structural indication that these MHR residues participate in the putative CTD-CTD interactions. These findings suggest that the molecules forming this novel interface resemble an intermediate structure that participates in the early steps of HIV-1 assembly. This interface may therefore provide a novel target for antiviral drugs.

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PDB reference: carboxy-terminal domain of HIV-1 capsid protein, 4ipy

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