Conservation of functional domains and limited heterogeneity of HIV-I reverse transcriptase gene following vertical transmission

Vasudha Sundaravaradan, Tobias Hahn, Nafees Ahmad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background: The reverse transcriptase (RT) enzyme of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) plays a crucial role in the life cycle of the virus by converting the single stranded RNA genome into double stranded DNA that integrates into the host chromosome. In addition, RT is also responsible for the generation of mutations throughout the viral genome, including in its own sequences and is thus responsible for the generation of quasi-species in HIV-1-infected individuals. We therefore characterized the molecular properties of RT, including the conservation of functional motifs, degree of genetic diversity, and evolutionary dynamics from five mother-infant pairs following vertical transmission. Results: The RT open reading frame was maintained with a frequency of 87.2% in five mother-infant pairs' sequences following vertical transmission. There was a low degree of viral heterogeneity and estimates of genetic diversity in mother-infant pairs' sequences. Both mothers and infants RT sequences were under positive selection pressure, as determined by the ratios of non-synonymous to synonymous substitutions. Phylogenetic analysis of 132 mother-infant RT sequences revealed distinct clusters for each mother-infant pair, suggesting that the epidemiologically linked mother-infant pairs were evolutionarily closer to each other as compared with epidemiologically unlinked mother-infant pairs. The functional domains of RT which are responsible for reverse transcription, DNA polymerization and RNase H activity were mostly conserved in the RT sequences analyzed in this study. Specifically, the active sites and domains required for primer binding, template binding, primer and template positioning and nucleotide recruitment were conserved in all mother-infant pairs' sequences. Conclusion: The maintenance of an intact RT open reading frame, conservation of functional domains for RT activity, preservation of several amino acid motifs in epidemiologically linked mother-infant pairs, and a low degree of genetic variability following vertical transmission is consistent with an indispensable role of RT in HIV-1 replication in infected mother-infant pairs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number36
StatePublished - May 26 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Virology
  • Infectious Diseases


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