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HIV-1 Reverse Transcriptase Still Remains A New Drug Target: Structure, Function, Classical Inhibitors, And New Inhibitors With Innovative Mechanisms Of Actions

Francesca Esposito, Angela Corona, Enzo Tramontano

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During the retrotranscription process, characteristic of all retroviruses, the viral ssRNA genome is converted into integration-competent dsDNA. This process is accomplished by the virus-coded reverse transcriptase (RT) protein, which is a primary target in the current treatments for HIV-1 infection. In particular, in the approved therapeutic regimens two classes of drugs target RT, namely, nucleoside RT inhibitors (NRTIs) and nonnucleoside RT inhibitors (NNRTIs). Both classes inhibit the RT-associated polymerase activity: the NRTIs compete with the natural dNTP substrate and act as chain terminators, while the NNRTIs bind to an allosteric pocket and inhibit polymerization noncompetitively. In addition to these two classes, other RT inhibitors (RTIs) that target RT by distinct mechanisms have been identified and are currently under development. These include translocation-defective RTIs, delayed chain terminators RTIs, lethal mutagenesis RTIs, dinucleotide tetraphosphates, nucleotide-competing RTIs, pyrophosphate analogs, RT-associated RNase H function inhibitors, and dual activities inhibitors. This paper describes the HIV-1 RT function and molecular structure, illustrates the currently approved RTIs, and focuses on the mechanisms of action of the newer classes of RTIs.