The human immunodeficiency virus type-1 (HIV-1) nucleocapsid (NC) protein is a chaperone that facilitates nucleic acid conformational changes to produce the most thermodynamically stable arrangement. The critical role of NC in many steps of the viral life cycle makes it an attractive therapeutic target. The chaperone activity of NC depends on its nucleic acid aggregating ability, duplex destabilizing activity, and rapid on-off binding kinetics. During the minus-strand transfer step of reverse transcription, NC chaperones the annealing of highly structured transactivation response region (TAR) RNA to the complementary TAR DNA. In this work, the role of different functional domains of NC in facilitating 59-nucleotide TAR RNA-DNA annealing was probed by using chemically synthesized peptides derived from full-length (55 amino acids) HIV-1 NC: NC(1-14), NC(15-35), NC(1-28), NC(1-35), NC(29-55), NC(36-55), and NC(11-55). Most of these peptides displayed significantly reduced annealing kinetics, even when present at concentrations much higher than that of wild-type (WT) NC. In addition, these truncated NC constructs generally bind more weakly to single-stranded DNA and are less effective nucleic acid aggregating agents than full-length NC, consistent with the loss of both electrostatic and hydrophobic contacts. However, NC(1-35) displayed annealing kinetics, nucleic acid binding, and aggregation activity that were very similar to those of WT NC. Thus, we conclude that the N-terminal zinc finger, flanked by the N-terminus and linker domains, represents the minimal sequence that is necessary and sufficient for chaperone function in vitro. In addition, covalent continuity of the 35 N-terminal amino acids of NC is critical for full activity. Thus, although the hydrophobic pocket formed by residues proximal to the C-terminal zinc finger has been a major focus of recent anti-NC therapeutic strategies, NC(1-35) represents an alternative target for therapeutics aimed at disrupting NC's chaperone function.