Reverse transcription mechanically initiates HIV-1 capsid disassembly

Sanela Rankovic, Janani Varadarajan, Ruben Ramalho, Christopher Aiken, Itay Rousso

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


The HIV-1 core consists of the viral genomic RNA and several viral proteins encased within a conical capsid. After cell entry, the core disassembles in a process termed uncoating. Although HIV-1 uncoating has been linked to reverse transcription of the viral genome in target cells, the mechanism by which uncoating is initiated is unknown. Using time-lapse atomic force microscopy, we analyzed the morphology and physical properties of isolated HIV-1 cores during the course of reverse transcription in vitro. We found that, during an early stage of reverse transcription the pressure inside the capsid increases, reaching a maximum after 7 h. Highresolution mechanical mapping reveals the formation of a stiffcoiled filamentous structure underneath the capsid surface. Subsequently, this coiled structure disappears, the stiffness of the capsid drops precipitously to a value below that of a prereverse transcription core, and the capsid undergoes partial or complete rupture near the narrow end of the conical structure. We propose that the transcription of the relatively flexible single-stranded RNA into a more rigid filamentous structure elevates the pressure within the core, which triggers the initiation of capsid disassembly.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00289-17
JournalJournal of Virology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2017


  • Atomic force microscopy
  • Capsid
  • HIV-1
  • Reverse transcription
  • Uncoating

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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