Apolipoprotein B mRNA-editing, enzyme-catalytic, polypeptide-like 3G (i.e., APOBEC3G or A3G) is an evolutionarily conserved cytosine deaminase that potently restricts human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1), retrotransposons and other viruses. A3G has a nucleotide target site specificity for cytosine dinucleotides, though only certain cytosine dinucleotides are 'hotspots' for cytosine deamination, and others experience little or no editing by A3G. The factors that define these critical A3G hotspots are not fully understood. To investigate how A3G hotspots are defined, we used an in vitro fluorescence resonance energy transfer-based oligonucleotide assay to probe the site specificity of A3G. Our findings strongly suggest that the target single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) secondary structure as well as the bases directly 3′ and 5′ of the cytosine dinucleotide are critically important A3G recognition. For instance, A3G cannot readily deaminate a cytosine dinucleotide in ssDNA stem structures or in nucleotide base loops composed of three bases. Single-stranded nucleotide loops up to seven bases in length were poor targets for A3G activity unless cytosine residues flanked the cytosine dinucleotide. Furthermore, we observed that A3G favors adenines, cytosines and thymines flanking the cytosine dinucleotide target in unstructured regions of ssDNA. Low cytosine deaminase activity was detected when guanines flanked the cytosine dinucleotide. Taken together, our findings provide the first demonstration that A3G cytosine deamination hotspots are defined by both the sequence context of the cytosine dinucleotide target as well as the ssDNA secondary structure. This knowledge can be used to better trace the origins of mutations to A3G activity, and illuminate its impact on processes such as HIV-1 genetic variation.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
National Institutes of Health (NIH) [R01 GM56615 to L.M.M., T32 DE007288 and T90 DE022732 to C.M.H.]. Funding for open access charge: NIH.