Nuclear Export Signal Masking Regulates HIV-1 Rev Trafficking and Viral RNA Nuclear Export

Ryan T Behrens, Mounavya Aligeti, Ginger M Pocock, Christina A Higgins, Nathan M Sherer

J Virol. 2017 Jan 18;91(3):e02107-16. 18/01/2017

PMID: 27852860


HIV-1’s Rev protein forms a homo-oligomeric adaptor complex linking viral RNAs to the cellular CRM1/Ran-GTP nuclear export machinery through the activity of Rev’s prototypical leucine-rich nuclear export signal (NES). In this study, we used a functional fluorescently tagged Rev fusion protein as a platform to study the effects of modulating Rev NES identity, number, position, or strength on Rev subcellular trafficking, viral RNA nuclear export, and infectious virion production. We found that Rev activity was remarkably tolerant of diverse NES sequences, including supraphysiological NES (SNES) peptides that otherwise arrest CRM1 transport complexes at nuclear pores. Rev’s ability to tolerate a SNES was both position and multimerization dependent, an observation consistent with a model wherein Rev self-association acts to transiently mask the NES peptide(s), thereby biasing Rev’s trafficking into the nucleus. Combined imaging and functional assays also indicated that NES masking underpins Rev’s well-known tendency to accumulate at the nucleolus, as well as Rev’s capacity to activate optimal levels of late viral gene expression. We propose that Rev multimerization and NES masking regulates Rev’s trafficking to and retention within the nucleus even prior to RNA binding.