Vpx facilitates HIV-2 nuclear localization by a poorly understood mechanism. We have compared Vpx to an NMR structure HIV-1 Vpr in a central helical domain and probed regions of Vpx by insertional mutagenesis. A predicted loop between helices two and three appears to be unique, overlapping with a known novel nuclear localization signal. Overall, Vpx was found to be surprisingly flexible, tolerating a series of large insertions. We found that insertion within the polyproline-containing C-terminus destabilizes nuclear localization, whereas mutating a second helix in the central domain disrupts viral packaging. Other insertional mutants in the predicted loop and in a linker region between the central domain and the C-terminus may be useful as sites of intramolecular tags as they could be packaged adequately and retained preintegration complex associated integration activity in a serum starvation assay. An unexpected result was found within a previously defined nuclear localization motif near aa 71. This mutant retained robust nuclear localization in a GFP fusion assay and was competent for preintegration complex associated nuclear import. In summary, we have modeled helical content in Vpx and assessed potential sites of intramolecular tags which may prove useful for protein-protein interactions studies.
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