In HIV-1 infected cells, over 40 different mRNA species are produced by alternative splicing of the single HIV-1 primary RNA transcript. In addition, approximately half of the HIV-1 primary RNA transcripts are not spliced and are exported to the cytoplasm where they serve as mRNA and as genomic RNA. In this article, we will review current knowledge of the mechanisms by which the HIV-1 alternative splicing is regulated. Several negatively and positivelyacting cis-acting elements have been detected within the viral genome that repress or facilitate viral RNA splicing by binding to cellular proteins. These include exonic splicing silencers (ESS) and an intronic splicing silencer (ISS) that are selectively bound either by members of the hnRNP A/B family (hnRNPs A1, A1Β, A2, and B1) or by hnRNP H. Exonic splicing enhancers (ESE) are also present within the HIV-1 genome and are selectively bound by members of the SR protein family. ESS and ISS repression mediated by hnRNP A/B proteins occurs at early steps of splicing, prior to formation of pre-spliceosome complexes. Current models propose that ESS elements promote cooperative binding of hnRNP A/B proteins to the exon and prevent efficient binding of essential cellular splicing factors to the 3 splice site. SR proteins bound to ESE elements that are juxtaposed or overlapping ESS elements may counteract this inhibition. We will review data indicating the importance of the HIV-1 splicing elements and their cognate binding proteins for efficient virus replication. Differences in cis-acting splicing elements between the group M (major) and group O (outlier) HIV-1 strains will also be discussed. Finally we will review evidence suggesting the possibility that there may be changes in regulation of HIV-1 alternative splicing in infected human T cells, human macrophages and rodent cells.
Keywords: HIV, group M, group O, RNA splicing, exonic splicing silencer, ESS, exonic splicing enhancer, ESE, replication, hnRNPs