The stimulatory effect of Mg2+ and Mn2+ on the ribonuclease H (RNase H) functions of HIV-1 reverse transcriptase (RT) has been evaluated using a model 90-nt RNA template/36-nt DNA primer. Wild type enzyme exhibits similar endonuclease and directional processing activities in response to both cations, while RNase H* activity (hydrolysis of double-stranded RNA) is only evident in the presence of Mn2+. Enzyme altered at the p66 residue Glu478 (Glu478→Gln478), which participates in metal ion binding, is completely inactive in Mg2+. However, Mn2+ restores specifically its endoribonuclease activity. In the presence of Mn2+, mutant RT also catalyzes specific removal of the tRNA replication primer, eliminating the possibility of contaminating Escherichia coli RNase H in our recombinant enzyme. However, the efficiency with which mutant RT catalyzes transfer of nascent DNA between RNA templates (an event mandating RNase H activity) is severely reduced. These findings raise the possibility that directional processing activity is required to accelerate transfer of nascent DNA between templates during retroviral replication.
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