The evolutionary relationship of retroviruses to the negative-stranded RNA virus superfamily was examined by comparing protein structures. Since protein structures are more conserved over time than primary protein sequences, three-dimensional structural comparisons permit the identification of evolutionary relationships that were previously undetected. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and influenza virus were used as representatives of the virus groups, and proteins with similar functions were compared. Since M1 of influenza virus has membrane- and RNA nucleocapsid-binding activities that are functionally analogous to those of the HIV matrix and capsid proteins, the structural similarities between these proteins were determined. Sequence alignments were based on superimposition of the three-dimensional structures. Helices 2, 2', 3 and 4 of the HIV matrix protein aligned and superimposed with the four-helix bundle of the membrane-binding N domain of M1 with a root mean square (RMS) of 3.48 A. Helices A, B and C of the HIV N-terminal capsid protein aligned and superimposed with three helices of the four-helix bundle of the RNA-binding N domain of M1 with an RMS of 2.63 A. The HIV Gag protein and influenza virus matrix protein may have evolved from a common ancestor protein. The similarities between influenza virus M1 and HIV matrix and capsid proteins may indicate an evolutionary link between retroviruses and negative-sense RNA viruses.


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