Department of Life Sciences, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo, 3-8-1 Komaba, Meguro, Tokyo, 153-8902, Japan; Department of Physics, Graduate School of Science, The University of Tokyo, 3-8-1 Komaba, Meguro, Tokyo, 153-8902, Japan. Electronic address: [Email]
Human immunodeficiency virus type-1 (HIV-1) transactivator of transcription (Tat) is an intrinsically disordered protein that exerts multiple functions, including activation of HIV-1 replication and induction of T-cell apoptosis and cytokine secretion via zinc binding and cellular uptake by endocytosis. However, the effects of zinc and endosomal low pH on the structure of isolated Tat protein are poorly understood. Here, we purified a monomeric zinc-bound Tat and studied its structure and acid denaturation by circular dichroism, NMR, and small-angle X-ray scattering. We found that at pH 7, the zinc-bound Tat was in a pre-molten globule state; it exhibited largely disordered conformations with residual helices and was slightly more compact than the fully unfolded states that were observed at pH 4 or in the zinc-free form. Moreover, acid-induced unfolding transitions in secondary structure and molecular size occurred at different pH ranges, indicating the presence of an expanded and helical intermediate at pH ∼6. Taken together, the extent of structural disorder in the intrinsically disordered Tat protein is highly sensitive to zinc and pH, suggesting that zinc binding and pH affect Tat structures and thereby control the versatile functions of Tat.