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1.  Molecular Architectures of Trimeric SIV and HIV-1 Envelope Glycoproteins on Intact Viruses: Strain-Dependent Variation in Quaternary Structure 
PLoS Pathogens  2010;6(12):e1001249.
The initial step in target cell infection by human, and the closely related simian immunodeficiency viruses (HIV and SIV, respectively) occurs with the binding of trimeric envelope glycoproteins (Env), composed of heterodimers of the viral transmembrane glycoprotein (gp41) and surface glycoprotein (gp120) to target T-cells. Knowledge of the molecular structure of trimeric Env on intact viruses is important both for understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying virus-cell interactions and for the design of effective immunogen-based vaccines to combat HIV/AIDS. Previous analyses of intact HIV-1 BaL virions have already resulted in structures of trimeric Env in unliganded and CD4-liganded states at ∼20 Å resolution. Here, we show that the molecular architectures of trimeric Env from SIVmneE11S, SIVmac239 and HIV-1 R3A strains are closely comparable to that previously determined for HIV-1 BaL, with the V1 and V2 variable loops located at the apex of the spike, close to the contact zone between virus and cell. The location of the V1/V2 loops in trimeric Env was definitively confirmed by structural analysis of HIV-1 R3A virions engineered to express Env with deletion of these loops. Strikingly, in SIV CP-MAC, a CD4-independent strain, trimeric Env is in a constitutively “open” conformation with gp120 trimers splayed out in a conformation similar to that seen for HIV-1 BaL Env when it is complexed with sCD4 and the CD4i antibody 17b. Our findings suggest a structural explanation for the molecular mechanism of CD4-independent viral entry and further establish that cryo-electron tomography can be used to discover distinct, functionally relevant quaternary structures of Env displayed on intact viruses.
Author Summary
HIV and SIV contact and infect target T-cells following the binding of trimeric Env spikes displayed on the viral membrane with cellular receptors. The conformational changes in trimeric Env that are triggered by the interaction between trimeric Env and cell surface receptors lead ultimately to fusion of the viral and cell membranes and delivery of the viral core into infected cells. Knowledge of the molecular structures of trimeric Env at different stages of virus-cell contact is therefore of fundamental interest for defining viral entry mechanisms and vaccine design. Cryo-electron tomography is a powerful structural tool to determine the structures of viral spikes when they are present on the surface of intact virions. Using this approach, we have determined the molecular structures of several SIV and HIV-1 strains, including an SIV strain that does not require cell surface receptor CD4 for entry and infection. Our results represent the first experimental demonstration that strain differences can result in distinct unliganded spike conformation as displayed on the surface of intact virions. The differences in structure between the different strains correlate with functional differences displayed by the viruses, and suggest a novel molecular explanation for the mechanism of CD4-independent viral entry.
PMCID: PMC3009598  PMID: 21203482
2.  Sequential Roles of Receptor Binding and Low pH in Forming Prehairpin and Hairpin Conformations of a Retroviral Envelope Glycoprotein 
Journal of Virology  2004;78(15):8201-8209.
A general model has been proposed for the fusion mechanisms of class I viral fusion proteins. According to this model a metastable trimer, anchored in the viral membrane through its transmembrane domain, transits to a trimeric prehairpin intermediate, anchored at its opposite end in the target membrane through its fusion peptide. A subsequent refolding event creates a trimer of hairpins (often termed a six-helix bundle) in which the previously well-separated transmembrane domain and fusion peptide (and their attached membranes) are brought together, thereby driving membrane fusion. While there is ample biochemical and structural information on the trimer-of-hairpins conformation of class I viral fusion proteins, less is known about intermediate states between native metastable trimers and the final trimer of hairpins. In this study we analyzed conformational states of the transmembrane subunit (TM), the fusion subunit, of the Env glycoprotein of the subtype A avian sarcoma and leukosis virus (ASLV-A). By analyzing forms of EnvA TM on mildly denaturing sodium dodecyl sulfate gels we identified five conformational states of EnvA TM. Following interaction of virions with a soluble form of the ASLV-A receptor at 37°C, the metastable form of EnvA TM (which migrates at 37 kDa) transits to a 70-kDa and then to a 150-kDa species. Following subsequent exposure to a low pH (or an elevated temperature or the fusion promoting agent chlorpromazine), an additional set of bands at >150 kDa, and then a final band at 100 kDa, forms. Both an EnvA C-helix peptide (which inhibits virus fusion and infectivity) and the fusion-inhibitory agent lysophosphatidylcholine inhibit the formation of the >150- and 100-kDa bands. Our data are consistent with the 70- and 150-kDa bands representing precursor and fully formed prehairpin conformations of EnvA TM. Our data are also consistent with the >150-kDa bands representing higher-order oligomers of EnvA TM and with the 100-kDa band representing the fully formed six-helix bundle. In addition to resolving fusion-relevant conformational intermediates of EnvA TM, our data are compatible with a model in which the EnvA protein is activated by its receptor (at neutral pH and a temperature greater than or equal to room temperature) to form prehairpin conformations of EnvA TM, and in which subsequent exposure to a low pH is required to stabilize the final six-helix bundle, which drives a later stage of fusion.
PMCID: PMC446138  PMID: 15254191
3.  Highly Stable Trimers Formed by Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 Envelope Glycoproteins Fused with the Trimeric Motif of T4 Bacteriophage Fibritin 
Journal of Virology  2002;76(9):4634-4642.
The envelope glycoproteins of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) function as a trimer composed of three gp120 exterior glycoproteins and three gp41 transmembrane proteins. Soluble gp140 glycoproteins composed of the uncleaved ectodomains of gp120 and gp41 form unstable, heterogeneous oligomers, but soluble gp140 trimers can be stabilized by fusion with a C-terminal, trimeric GCN4 motif (X. Yang et al., J. Virol. 74:5716-5725, 2000). To understand the influence of the C-terminal trimerization domain on the properties of soluble HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein trimers, uncleaved, soluble gp140 glycoproteins were stabilized by fusion with another trimeric motif derived from T4 bacteriophage fibritin. The fibritin construct was more stable to heat and reducing conditions than the GCN4 construct. Both GCN4- and fibritin-stabilized soluble gp140 glycoproteins exhibited patterns of neutralizing and nonneutralizing antibody binding expected for the functional envelope glycoprotein spike. Of note, two potently neutralizing antibodies, immunoglobulin G1b12 and 2G12, exhibited the greatest recognition of the stabilized, soluble trimers, relative to recognition of the gp120 monomer. The observed similarities between the GCN4 and fibritin constructs indicate that the HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein ectodomains dictate many of the antigenic and structural features of these fusion proteins. The melting temperatures and ligand recognition properties of the GCN4- and fibritin-stabilized soluble gp140 glycoproteins suggest that these molecules assume conformations distinct from that of the fusion-active, six-helix bundle.
PMCID: PMC155086  PMID: 11932429
4.  Soluble Mimetics of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 Viral Spikes Produced by Replacement of the Native Trimerization Domain with a Heterologous Trimerization Motif: Characterization and Ligand Binding Analysis 
Journal of Virology  2005;79(15):9954-9969.
The human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) exterior envelope glycoprotein, gp120, mediates binding to the viral receptors and, along with the transmembrane glycoprotein gp41, is a major target for neutralizing antibodies. We asked whether replacing the gp41 fusion/trimerization domain with a stable trimerization motif might lead to a more stable gp120 trimer that would be amenable to structural and immunologic analysis. To obtain stable gp120 trimers, a heterologous trimerization motif, GCN4, was appended to the C terminus of YU2gp120. Biochemical analysis indicated that the gp120-GCN4 trimers were superior to gp140 molecules in their initial homogeneity, and trilobed structures were observable by electron microscopy. Biophysical analysis of gp120-GCN4 trimers by isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC) and ultracentrifugation analyses indicated that most likely two molecules of soluble CD4 could bind to one gp120-GCN4 trimer. To further examine restricted CD4 stoichiometric binding to the gp120-GCN4 trimers, we generated a low-affinity CD4 binding trimer by introducing a D457V change in the CD4 binding site of each gp120 monomeric subunit. The mutant trimers could definitively bind only one soluble CD4 molecule, as determined by ITC and sedimentation equilibrium centrifugation. These data indicate that there are weak interactions between the gp120 monomeric subunits of the GCN4-stabilized trimers that can be detected by low-affinity ligand sensing. By similar analysis, we also determined that removal of the variable loops V1, V2, and V3 in the context of the gp120-GCN4 proteins allowed the binding of three CD4 molecules per trimer. Interestingly, both the gp120-GCN4 variants displayed a restricted stoichiometry for the CD4-induced antibody 17b of one antibody molecule binding per trimer. This restriction was not evident upon removal of the variable loops V1 and V2 loops, consistent with conformational constraints in the wild-type gp120 trimers and similar to those inherent in the functional Env spike. Thus, the gp120-GCN4 trimers demonstrate several properties that are consistent with some of those anticipated for gp120 in the context of the viral spike.
PMCID: PMC1181572  PMID: 16014956
5.  Complementation of diverse HIV-1 Env defects through cooperative subunit interactions: a general property of the functional trimer 
Retrovirology  2009;6:75.
The HIV-1 Env glycoprotein mediates virus entry by catalyzing direct fusion between the virion membrane and the target cell plasma membrane. Env is composed of two subunits: gp120, which binds to CD4 and the coreceptor, and gp41, which is triggered upon coreceptor binding to promote the membrane fusion reaction. Env on the surface of infected cells is a trimer consisting of three gp120/gp41 homo-dimeric protomers. An emerging question concerns cooperative interactions between the protomers in the trimer, and possible implications for Env function.
We extended studies on cooperative subunit interactions within the HIV-1 Env trimer, using analysis of functional complementation between coexpressed inactive variants harboring different functional deficiencies. In assays of Env-mediated cell fusion, complementation was observed between variants with a wide range of defects in both the gp120 and gp41 subunits. The former included gp120 subunits mutated in the CD4 binding site or incapable of coreceptor interaction due either to mismatched specificity or V3 loop mutation. Defective gp41 variants included point mutations at different residues within the fusion peptide or heptad repeat regions, as well as constructs with modifications or deletions of the membrane proximal tryptophan-rich region or the transmembrane domain. Complementation required the defective variants to be coexpressed in the same cell. The observed complementation activities were highly dependent on the assay system. The most robust activities were obtained with a vaccinia virus-based expression and reporter gene activation assay for cell fusion. In an alternative system involving Env expression from integrated provirus, complementation was detected in cell fusion assays, but not in virus particle entry assays.
Our results indicate that Env function does not require every subunit in the trimer to be competent for all essential activities. Through cross-talk between subunits, the functional determinants on one defective protomer can cooperatively interact to trigger the functional determinants on an adjacent protomer(s) harboring a different defect, leading to fusion. Cooperative subunit interaction is a general feature of the Env trimer, based on complementation activities observed for a highly diverse range of functional defects.
PMCID: PMC2738651  PMID: 19671162
6.  Selected HIV-1 Env Trimeric Formulations Act as Potent Immunogens in a Rabbit Vaccination Model 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e74552.
Ten to 30% of HIV-1 infected subjects develop broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) during chronic infection. We hypothesized that immunizing rabbits with viral envelope glycoproteins (Envs) from these patients may induce bNAbs, when formulated as a trimeric protein and in the presence of an adjuvant.
Based on in vitro neutralizing activity in serum, patients with bNAbs were selected for cloning of their HIV-1 Env. Seven stable soluble trimeric gp140 proteins were generated from sequences derived from four adults and two children infected with either clade A or B HIV-1. From one of the clade A Envs both the monomeric and trimeric Env were produced for comparison. Rabbits were immunized with soluble gp120 or trimeric gp140 proteins in combination with the adjuvant dimethyl dioctadecyl ammonium/trehalose dibehenate (CAF01). Env binding in rabbit immune serum was determined using ELISAs based on gp120-IIIB protein. Neutralizing activity of IgG purified from rabbit immune sera was measured with the pseudovirus-TZMbl assay and a PBMC-based neutralization assay for selected experiments.
It was initially established that gp140 trimers induce better antibody responses over gp120 monomers and that the adjuvant CAF01 was necessary for such strong responses. Gp140 trimers, based on HIV-1 variants from patients with bNAbs, were able to elicit both gp120IIIB specific IgG and NAbs to Tier 1 viruses of different subtypes. Potency of NAbs closely correlated with titers, and an gp120-binding IgG titer above a threshold of 100,000 was predictive of neutralization capability. Finally, peptide inhibition experiments showed that a large fraction of the neutralizing IgG was directed against the gp120 V3 region.
Our results indicate that the strategy of reverse immunology based on selected Env sequences is promising when immunogens are delivered as stabilized trimers in CAF01 adjuvant and that the rabbit is a valuable model for HIV vaccine studies.
PMCID: PMC3759472  PMID: 24023951
7.  Relationship between SU Subdomains That Regulate the Receptor-Mediated Transition from the Native (Fusion-Inhibited) to the Fusion-Active Conformation of the Murine Leukemia Virus Glycoprotein 
Journal of Virology  2002;76(19):9673-9685.
Envelope glycoproteins (Env) of retroviruses are trimers of SU (surface) and TM (transmembrane) heterodimers and are expressed on virions in fusion-competent forms that are likely to be metastable. Activation of the viral receptor-binding domain (RBD) via its interaction with a cell surface receptor is thought to initiate a cascade of events that lead to refolding of the Env glycoprotein into its stable fusion-active conformation. While the fusion-active conformation of the TM subunit has been described in detail for several retroviruses, little is known about the fusion-competent structure of the retroviral glycoproteins or the molecular events that mediate the transition between the two conformations. By characterizing Env chimeras between the ecotropic and amphotropic murine leukemia virus (MLV) SUs as well as a set of point mutants, we show that alterations of the conformation of the SU glycoprotein strongly elevate Env fusogenicity by disrupting the stability of the Env complex. Compensatory mutations that restored both Env stability and fusion control were also identified, allowing definition of interactions within the Env complex that maintain the stability of the native Env complex. We show that, in the receptor-unbound form, structural interactions between the N terminus of the viral RBD (NTR domain), the proline-rich region (PRR), and the distal part of the C-terminal domain of the SU subunit maintain a conformation of the glycoprotein that is fusion inhibitory. Additionally, we identified mutations that disrupt this fusion-inhibitory conformation and allow fusion activation in the absence of viral receptors, provided that receptor-activated RBD fragments are added in trans during infection. Other mutations were identified that allow fusion activation in the absence of receptors for both the viral glycoprotein and the trans-acting RBD. Finally, we found mutations of the SU that bypass in cis the requirement for the NTR domain in fusion activation. All these different mutations call for a critical role of the PRR in mediating conformational changes of the Env glycoprotein during fusion activation. Our results suggest a model of MLV Env fusion activation in which unlocking of the fusion-inhibitory conformation is initiated by receptor binding of the viral RBD, which, upon disruption of the PRR, allows the NTR domain to promote further events in Env fusion activation. This involves a second type of interaction, in cis or in trans, between the receptor-activated RBD and a median segment of the freed C-terminal domain.
PMCID: PMC136517  PMID: 12208946
8.  A Comparative Immunogenicity Study of HIV-1 Virus-Like Particles Bearing Various Forms of Envelope Proteins, Particles Bearing no Envelope and soluble monomeric gp120 
Virology  2007;366(2):245-262.
To assess the potential of native Envelope glycoprotein (Env) trimers as neutralizing antibody vaccines, we immunized guinea pigs with three types of VLPs and soluble gp120. Particles included “SOS-VLPs” (bearing disulfide-shackled functional trimers), “UNC-VLPs” (bearing uncleaved nonfunctional Env), and “naked VLPs” (bearing no Env). The SOS-VLPs were found to have a density of about 27 native trimers per particle, about twice that of live inactivated HIV-1 preparations. As immunogens, UNC- and SOS-VLP rapidly elicited anti-gp120 antibodies. Gp120-specific antibodies were focused on the V3 loop and the gp120 coreceptor binding site. Reactivity to the gp41 immunodominant domain was absent in SOS-VLP sera, presumably because gp120-gp41 association is stabilized. Gp120 immune sera were less focused on the V3 loop, and reacted with the receptor binding sites of gp120. Some Env-VLP sera neutralized primary isolates at modest titers. Neutralization activity was found to be affected by the cell lines used. Depending on the assay particulars, non-Env specific antibodies in VLP sera could enhance infection, or nonspecifically neutralized. However, we found that the TZM-BL neutralization assay was clear of these effects. We also report a native trimer shift assay that eliminates nonspecific effects and confirm the neutralization activity. Overall, our results suggest that a major focus of VLP sera was against components of particles other than Env trimers, including nonfunctional gp120/gp41 monomers. To make progress toward a more effective VLP vaccine, we will need to find ways to refocus the attention of B cells on native trimers.
PMCID: PMC2080857  PMID: 17580087
HIV; vaccine; antibody; neutralizing; neutralization; VLPs; gp120; gp41; Env
9.  Increased Functional Stability and Homogeneity of Viral Envelope Spikes through Directed Evolution 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(2):e1003184.
The functional HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein (Env) trimer, the target of anti-HIV-1 neutralizing antibodies (Abs), is innately labile and coexists with non-native forms of Env. This lability and heterogeneity in Env has been associated with its tendency to elicit non-neutralizing Abs. Here, we use directed evolution to overcome instability and heterogeneity of a primary Env spike. HIV-1 virions were subjected to iterative cycles of destabilization followed by replication to select for Envs with enhanced stability. Two separate pools of stable Env variants with distinct sequence changes were selected using this method. Clones isolated from these viral pools could withstand heat, denaturants and other destabilizing conditions. Seven mutations in Env were associated with increased trimer stability, primarily in the heptad repeat regions of gp41, but also in V1 of gp120. Combining the seven mutations generated a variant Env with superior homogeneity and stability. This variant spike moreover showed resistance to proteolysis and to dissociation by detergent. Heterogeneity within the functional population of hyper-stable Envs was also reduced, as evidenced by a relative decrease in a proportion of virus that is resistant to the neutralizing Ab, PG9. The latter result may reflect a change in glycans on the stabilized Envs. The stabilizing mutations also increased the proportion of secreted gp140 existing in a trimeric conformation. Finally, several Env-stabilizing substitutions could stabilize Env spikes from HIV-1 clades A, B and C. Spike stabilizing mutations may be useful in the development of Env immunogens that stably retain native, trimeric structure.
Author Summary
A vaccine is needed to prevent HIV/AIDS but eliciting potent neutralizing antibodies (Abs) against primary isolates has been a major stumbling block. The target of HIV-1 neutralizing antibodies is the native envelope glycoprotein (Env) trimer that is displayed on the surface of the virus. Virion associated Env typically elicits antibodies that cannot neutralize primary viruses. However, because native Env trimers can dissociate and coexist with non-fusogenic forms of Env interpreting these results are difficult. Here, we used directed evolution to select for virions that display native Env with increased stability and homogeneity. HIV-1 virions were subjected to increasingly harsh treatments that destabilize Env trimers, and the variants that survived each treatment were expanded. We could identify seven different mutations in Env that increased its stability of function in the face of multiple destabilizing treatments. When these mutations were combined, the resulting mutant Env trimers were far more stable than the original Env protein. Incorporating trimer-stabilizing mutations into Env-based immunogens should facilitate vaccine research by mitigating the confounding effects of non-native byproducts of Env decay. A similar approach may be used on other pathogens with potential vaccine targets that are difficult to isolate and maintain in a native form.
PMCID: PMC3585149  PMID: 23468626
10.  Mutations in the Fusion Peptide and Adjacent Heptad Repeat Inhibit Folding or Activity of the Newcastle Disease Virus Fusion Protein 
Journal of Virology  2001;75(17):7934-7943.
Paramyxovirus fusion proteins have two heptad repeat domains, HR1 and HR2, which have been implicated in the fusion activity of the protein. Peptides with sequences from these two domains form a six-stranded coiled coil, with the HR1 sequences forming a central trimer (K. A. Baker, R. E. Dutch, R. A. Lamb, and T. S. Jardetzky, Mol. Cell 3:309–319, 1999; X. Zhao, M. Singh, V. N. Malashkevich, and P. S. Kim, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 97:14172–14177, 2000). We have extended our previous mutational analysis of the HR1 domain of the Newcastle disease virus fusion protein, focusing on the role of the amino acids forming the hydrophobic core of the trimer, amino acids in the “a” and “d” positions of the helix from amino acids 123 to 182. Both conservative and nonconservative point mutations were characterized for their effects on synthesis, stability, proteolytic cleavage, and surface expression. Mutant proteins expressed on the cell surface were characterized for fusion activity by measuring syncytium formation, content mixing, and lipid mixing. We found that all mutations in the “a” position interfered with proteolytic cleavage and surface expression of the protein, implicating the HR1 domain in the folding of the F protein. However, mutation of five of seven “d” position residues had little or no effect on surface expression but, with one exception at residue 175, did interfere to various extents with the fusion activity of the protein. One of these “d” mutations, at position 154, interfered with proteolytic cleavage, while the rest of the mutants were cleaved normally. That most “d” position residues do affect fusion activity argues that a stable HR1 trimer is required for formation of the six-stranded coiled coil and, therefore, optimal fusion activity. That most of the “d” position mutations do not block folding suggests that formation of the core trimer may not be required for folding of the prefusion form of the protein. We also found that mutations within the fusion peptide, at residue 128, can interfere with folding of the protein, implicating this region in folding of the molecule. No characterized mutation enhanced fusion.
PMCID: PMC115037  PMID: 11483738
11.  The Central Proline of an Internal Viral Fusion Peptide Serves Two Important Roles 
Journal of Virology  2000;74(4):1686-1693.
The fusion peptide of the avian sarcoma/leukosis virus (ASLV) envelope protein (Env) is internal, near the N terminus of its transmembrane (TM) subunit. As for most internal viral fusion peptides, there is a proline near the center of this sequence. Robson-Garnier structure predictions of the ASLV fusion peptide and immediate surrounding sequences indicate a region of order (β-sheet), a tight reverse turn containing the proline, and a second region of order (α-helix). Similar motifs (order, turn or loop, order) are predicted for other internal fusion peptides. In this study, we made and analyzed 12 Env proteins with substitutions for the central proline of the fusion peptide. Env proteins were expressed in 293T cells and in murine leukemia virus pseudotyped virions. We found the following. (i) All mutant Envs form trimers, but when the bulky hydrophobic residues phenylalanine or leucine are substituted for proline, trimerization is weakened. (ii) Surprisingly, the proline is required for maximal processing of the Env precursor into its surface and TM subunits; the amount of processing correlates linearly with the propensity of the substituted residue to be found in a reverse turn. (iii) Nonetheless, proteolytically processed forms of all Envs are preferentially incorporated into pseudotyped virions. (iv) All Envs bind receptor with affinity greater than or equal to wild-type affinity. (v) Residues that support high infectivity cluster with proline at intermediate hydrophobicity. Infectivity is not supported by mutant Envs in which charged residues are substituted for proline, nor is it supported by the trimerization-defective phenylalanine and leucine mutants. Our findings suggest that the central proline in the ASLV fusion peptide is important for the formation of the native (metastable) Env structure as well as for membrane interactions that lead to fusion.
PMCID: PMC111643  PMID: 10644338
12.  Elicitation of Neutralizing Antibodies with DNA Vaccines Expressing Soluble Stabilized Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 Envelope Glycoprotein Trimers Conjugated to C3d 
Journal of Virology  2004;78(9):4710-4719.
DNA vaccines expressing the envelope (Env) of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) have been relatively ineffective at generating high-titer, long-lasting immune responses. Oligomeric or trimeric (gp140) forms of Env that more closely mimic the native proteins on the virion are often more effective immunogens than monomeric (gp120) envelopes. In this study, several forms of Env constructed from the HIV-1 isolate YU-2 (HIV-1YU-2) were tested for their immunogenic potential: a trimeric form of uncleaved (−) Env stabilized with a synthetic trimer motif isolated from the fibritin (FT) protein of the T4 bacteriophage, sgp140YU-2(−/FT), was compared to sgp140YU-2(−) without a synthetic trimerization domain, as well as to monomeric gp120YU-2. DNA plasmids were constructed to express Env alone or fused to various copies of murine C3d (mC3d). BALB/c mice were vaccinated (day 1 and week 4) with DNA expressing a codon-optimized envelope gene insert, alone or fused to mC3d. Mice were subsequently boosted (week 8) with the DNA or recombinant Env protein. All mice had high anti-Env antibody titers regardless of the use of mC3d. Sera from mice vaccinated with DNA expressing non-C3d-fused trimers elicited neutralizing antibodies against homologous HIV-1YU-2 virus infection in vitro. In contrast, sera from mice inoculated with DNA expressing Env-C3d protein trimers elicited antibody that neutralized both homologous HIV-1YU-2 and heterologous HIV-1ADA, albeit at low titers. Therefore, DNA vaccines expressing trimeric envelopes coupled to mC3d, expressed in vivo from codon-optimized sequences, elicit low titers of neutralizing antibodies against primary isolates of HIV-1.
PMCID: PMC387675  PMID: 15078953
13.  Promoting Trimerization of Soluble Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 (HIV-1) Env through the Use of HIV-1/Simian Immunodeficiency Virus Chimeras 
Journal of Virology  2004;78(5):2265-2276.
The envelope proteins (Env) of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) and simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) form homo-oligomers in the endoplasmic reticulum. The oligomeric structure of Env is maintained, but is less stable, after cleavage in a Golgi compartment and transport to the surface of infected cells. Functional, virion-associated HIV-1 and SIV Env have an almost exclusively trimeric structure. In addition, a soluble form of SIV Env (gp140) forms a nearly homogeneous population of trimers. Here, we describe the oligomeric structure of soluble, uncleaved HIV-1 gp140 and modifications that promote a stable trimeric structure. Biochemical and biophysical analyses, including sedimentation equilibrium and scanning transmission electron microscopy, revealed that unmodified HIV-1 gp140 purified as a heterogeneous range of oligomeric species, including dimers and aggregates. Deletion of the V2 domain alone or, especially, both the V1 and V2 domains reduced dimer formation but promoted aggregation rather than trimerization. Expressing gp140 with mannose-only oligosaccharides did not eliminate heterogeneity. Replacement of the entire gp41 segment of HIV-1 gp140 or just the N-terminal half (85 amino acids) of this segment with the corresponding region of SIV was sufficient to confer efficient trimerization for gp140 derived from clade B and C isolates. Importantly, the relatively small segment of the HIV Env replaced by SIV sequences contains no known targets of neutralizing antibody. The soluble trimeric form of HIV-1 Env should prove useful for assessment of antigenic structure and immunogenicity.
PMCID: PMC369220  PMID: 14963123
14.  Molecular Determinants of Antiviral Potency of Paramyxovirus Entry Inhibitors▿  
Journal of Virology  2007;81(19):10567-10574.
Hendra virus (HeV) and Nipah virus (NiV) constitute the Henipavirus genus of paramyxoviruses, both fatal in humans and with the potential for subversion as agents of bioterrorism. Binding of the HeV/NiV attachment protein (G) to its receptor triggers a series of conformational changes in the fusion protein (F), ultimately leading to formation of a postfusion six-helix bundle (6HB) structure and fusion of the viral and cellular membranes. The ectodomain of paramyxovirus F proteins contains two conserved heptad repeat regions, the first (the N-terminal heptad repeat [HRN]) adjacent to the fusion peptide and the second (the C-terminal heptad repeat [HRC]) immediately preceding the transmembrane domain. Peptides derived from the HRN and HRC regions of F are proposed to inhibit fusion by preventing activated F molecules from forming the 6HB structure that is required for fusion. We previously reported that a human parainfluenza virus 3 (HPIV3) F peptide effectively inhibits infection mediated by the HeV glycoproteins in pseudotyped-HeV entry assays more effectively than the comparable HeV-derived peptide, and we now show that this peptide inhibits live-HeV and -NiV infection. HPIV3 F peptides were also effective in inhibiting HeV pseudotype virus entry in a new assay that mimics multicycle replication. This anti-HeV/NiV efficacy can be correlated with the greater potential of the HPIV3 C peptide to interact with the HeV F N peptide coiled-coil trimer, as evaluated by thermal unfolding experiments. Furthermore, replacement of a buried glutamic acid (glutamic acid 459) in the C peptide with valine enhances antiviral potency and stabilizes the 6HB conformation. Our results strongly suggest that conserved interhelical packing interactions in the F protein fusion core are important determinants of C peptide inhibitory activity and offer a strategy for the development of more-potent analogs of F peptide inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC2045485  PMID: 17652384
15.  Functional Complementation of a Model Target to Study Vpu Sensitivity 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e68507.
HIV-1 forms infectious particles with Murine Leukemia virus (MLV) Env, but not with the closely related Gibbon ape Leukemia Virus (GaLV) Env. We have determined that the incompatibility between HIV-1 and GaLV Env is primarily caused by the HIV-1 accessory protein Vpu, which prevents GaLV Env from being incorporated into particles. We have characterized the ‘Vpu sensitivity sequence’ in the cytoplasmic tail domain (CTD) of GaLV Env using a chimeric MLV Env with the GaLV Env CTD (MLV/GaLV Env). Vpu sensitivity is dependent on an alpha helix with a positively charged face containing at least one Lysine. In the present study, we utilized functional complementation to address whether all the three helices in the CTD of an Env trimer have to contain the Vpu sensitivity motif for the trimer to be modulated by Vpu. Taking advantage of the functional complementation of the binding defective (D84K) and fusion defective (L493V) MLV and MLV/GaLV Env mutants, we were able to assay the activity of mixed trimers containing both MLV and GaLV CTDs. Mixed trimers containing both MLV and GaLV CTDs were functionally active and remained sensitive to Vpu. However, trimers containing an Env with the GaLV CTD and an Env with no CTD remained functional but were resistant to Vpu. Together these data suggest that the presence of at least one GaLV CTD is sufficient to make an Env trimer sensitive to Vpu, but only if it is part of a trimeric CTD complex.
PMCID: PMC3695915  PMID: 23840857
16.  Stabilization of TM Trimer Interactions during Activation of Moloney Murine Leukemia Virus Env▿  
Journal of Virology  2007;82(5):2358-2366.
The transmembrane subunit (TM) of the trimeric retrovirus Env complex is thought to direct virus-cell membrane fusion by refolding into a cell membrane-interacting, extended form that subsequently folds back on itself into a very stable trimer of hairpin-like TM polypeptides. However, so far there is only limited evidence for the formation of a stable TM trimer during Env activation. Here we have studied the oligomer composition and stability of an intermediate and the fully activated form of Moloney murine leukemia virus (Mo-MLV) Env. Activation of Mo-MLV Env is controlled by isomerization of its intersubunit disulfide. This results in surface subunit (SU) dissociation and TM refolding. If activation is done in the presence of an alkylator, this will modify the isomerization-active thiol in the SU of Env and arrest Env at an intermediate stage, the isomerization-arrested state (IAS) of its activation pathway. We generated IAS and fully activated Envs in vitro and in vivo and studied their states of oligomerization by two-dimensional blue native polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (PAGE) and nonreducing sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS)-PAGE. The IAS Env was composed of trimers of SU-TM complexes, whereas the activated Env consisted of SU monomers and TM trimers. When the oligomers were subjected to mild SDS treatment the TM trimer was found to be 3.5 times more resistant than the IAS oligomer. Thus, this demonstrates that a structural conversion of TM takes place during activation, which results in the formation of a stable TM trimer.
PMCID: PMC2258960  PMID: 18094169
17.  Fusogenicity of Jaagsiekte Sheep Retrovirus Envelope Protein Is Dependent on Low pH and Is Enhanced by Cytoplasmic Tail Truncations▿  
Journal of Virology  2007;82(5):2543-2554.
Jaagsiekte sheep retrovirus (JSRV) envelope (Env) is an active oncogene responsible for neoplastic transformation in animals and cultured cells. In this study, we used syncytium induction and fluorescence-based cell fusion assays to investigate JSRV Env fusion and its modulation by the cytoplasmic tail (CT). We found that JSRV Env induced syncytia in cells overexpressing the receptor for JSRV and that a low pH was required for this process to occur. Fusion kinetics studies revealed that cell-cell fusion by JSRV Env at neutral pH was poor, taking up to a day, in sharp contrast to fusion at low pH, which peaked within 2 min following a low-pH trigger. Deletion of the C-terminal 7 or 16 amino acids of the JSRV Env CT had no or little effect on fusion, yet additional truncation toward the membrane-spanning domain, resulting in mutants retaining as little as 1 amino acid of the CT, led to progressively increased syncytium formation at neutral pH that was further enhanced by low-pH treatment. Notably, the severely truncated mutants showed elevated levels of surface subunits in culture medium, suggesting that the CT truncations resulted in conformational changes in the ectodomain of Env that impaired surface subunit associations. Taken together, this study reveals for the first time that the fusion activity of the JSRV Env protein is dependent on a low pH and is modulated by the CT, whose truncation overcomes, at least partially, the low-pH requirement for fusion and enhances Env fusion activity and kinetics.
PMCID: PMC2258932  PMID: 18094165
18.  Well-Ordered Trimeric HIV-1 Subtype B and C Soluble Spike Mimetics Generated by Negative Selection Display Native-like Properties 
PLoS Pathogens  2015;11(1):e1004570.
The structure of BG505 gp140 SOSIP, a soluble mimic of the native HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein (Env), marks the beginning of new era in Env structure-based immunogen design. Displaying a well-ordered quaternary structure, these subtype A-derived trimers display an excellent antigenic profile, discriminating recognition by broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) from non-broadly neutralizing antibodies (non-bNAbs), and provide a solid Env-based immunogenic platform starting point. Even with this important advance, obtaining homogeneous well-ordered soluble SOSIP trimers derived from other subtypes remains challenging. Here, we report the “rescue” of homogeneous well-ordered subtype B and C SOSIP trimers from a heterogeneous Env mixture using CD4 binding site-directed (CD4bs) non-bNAbs in a negative-selection purification process. These non-bNAbs recognize the primary receptor CD4bs only on disordered trimers but not on the native Env spike or well-ordered soluble trimers due to steric hindrance. Following negative selection to remove disordered oligomers, we demonstrated recovery of well-ordered, homogeneous trimers by electron microscopy (EM). We obtained 3D EM reconstructions of unliganded trimers, as well as in complex with sCD4, a panel of CD4bs-directed bNAbs, and the cleavage-dependent, trimer-specific bNAb, PGT151. Using bio-layer light interferometry (BLI) we demonstrated that the well-ordered trimers were efficiently recognized by bNAbs and poorly recognized by non-bNAbs, representing soluble mimics of the native viral spike. Biophysical characterization was consistent with the thermostability of a homogeneous species that could be further stabilized by specific bNAbs. This study revealed that Env trimers generate different frequencies of well-ordered versus disordered aberrant trimers even when they are genetically identical. By negatively selecting the native-like well-ordered trimers, we establish a new means to obtain soluble Env mimetics derived from subtypes B and C for expanded use as candidate vaccine immunogens.
Author Summary
The HIV envelope glycoprotein (Env) is the sole virally encoded gene product on the surface of the virus and, as such, is the only target of neutralizing antibodies. A broadly efficacious HIV vaccine will likely need to generate a robust neutralizing antibody response directed at conserved elements of the variable Env. For a successful antibody-based vaccine, a soluble mimic of the HIV spike will likely be required to generate high-titer anti-Env antibodies capable of neutralizing a wide array of HIV isolates. Due to the global sequence diversity of Env, generating a diverse array of these soluble spikes will benefit immunization strategies designed to cope with such viral diversity. Here, we report a novel purification strategy followed by a comprehensive characterization of two soluble HIV spikes from infection-prominent subtypes, B and C. We demonstrate that these homogeneous soluble trimers are faithful mimics of the HIV spike by neutralizing antibody binding, electron microscopy and other biophysical assessments. Possessing soluble and stable mimics of the HIV spike derived from diverse strains improves both our knowledge of HIV spike architecture as shown here and extends subtype coverage of potential vaccine candidates.
PMCID: PMC4287557  PMID: 25569572
19.  Structural Mechanism of Trimeric HIV-1 Envelope Glycoprotein Activation 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(7):e1002797.
HIV-1 infection begins with the binding of trimeric viral envelope glycoproteins (Env) to CD4 and a co-receptor on target T-cells. Understanding how these ligands influence the structure of Env is of fundamental interest for HIV vaccine development. Using cryo-electron microscopy, we describe the contrasting structural outcomes of trimeric Env binding to soluble CD4, to the broadly neutralizing, CD4-binding site antibodies VRC01, VRC03 and b12, or to the monoclonal antibody 17b, a co-receptor mimic. Binding of trimeric HIV-1 BaL Env to either soluble CD4 or 17b alone, is sufficient to trigger formation of the open quaternary conformation of Env. In contrast, VRC01 locks Env in the closed state, while b12 binding requires a partial opening in the quaternary structure of trimeric Env. Our results show that, despite general similarities in regions of the HIV-1 gp120 polypeptide that contact CD4, VRC01, VRC03 and b12, there are important differences in quaternary structures of the complexes these ligands form on native trimeric Env, and potentially explain differences in the neutralizing breadth and potency of antibodies with similar specificities. From cryo-electron microscopic analysis at ∼9 Å resolution of a cleaved, soluble version of trimeric Env, we show that a structural signature of the open Env conformation is a three-helix motif composed of α-helical segments derived from highly conserved, non-glycosylated N-terminal regions of the gp41 trimer. The three N-terminal gp41 helices in this novel, activated Env conformation are held apart by their interactions with the rest of Env, and are less compactly packed than in the post-fusion, six-helix bundle state. These findings suggest a new structural template for designing immunogens that can elicit antibodies targeting HIV at a vulnerable, pre-entry stage.
Author Summary
HIV infection occurs following the binding of viral envelope glycoproteins (Env) to receptors on target cell surfaces. Binding to these molecules induces conformational changes in Env, ultimately leading to the exposure of a viral fusion peptide and fusion of viral and cellular membranes. Understanding the structure of Env at each step during HIV entry is of fundamental importance in the design of compounds that can combat infection. Here, we use cryo-electron tomography to characterize the conformational changes that occur in Env at individual steps in the entry process, revealing the unexpected finding that binding to a co-receptor mimic alone induces the same conformational changes as binding to CD4. Furthermore, using single particle cryo-electron microscopy, we show structural evidence, at sub-nanometer resolution, of a novel, activated intermediate state of HIV where highly conserved, interior components of the viral spike are exposed. We show that transition to this state can be blocked by addition of a highly neutralizing antibody, VRC01, revealing a possible mechanism for its potent neutralizing ability. Discovery of the structure of this new Env intermediate provides a template for the design of immunogens aimed at eliciting antibodies that could block HIV entry.
PMCID: PMC3395603  PMID: 22807678
20.  Clustering and Mobility of HIV-1 Env at Viral Assembly Sites Predict Its Propensity To Induce Cell-Cell Fusion 
Journal of Virology  2013;87(13):7516-7525.
HIV-1 Env mediates virus attachment to and fusion with target cell membranes, and yet, while Env is still situated at the plasma membrane of the producer cell and before its incorporation into newly formed particles, Env already interacts with the viral receptor CD4 on target cells, thus enabling the formation of transient cell contacts that facilitate the transmission of viral particles. During this first encounter with the receptor, Env must not induce membrane fusion, as this would prevent the producer cell and the target cell from separating upon virus transmission, but how Env's fusion activity is controlled remains unclear. To gain a better understanding of the Env regulation that precedes viral transmission, we examined the nanoscale organization of Env at the surface of producer cells. Utilizing superresolution microscopy (stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy [STORM]) and fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP), we quantitatively assessed the clustering and dynamics of Env upon its arrival at the plasma membrane. We found that Gag assembly induced the aggregation of small Env clusters into larger domains and that these domains were completely immobile. Truncation of the cytoplasmic tail (CT) of Env abrogated Gag's ability to induce Env clustering and restored Env mobility at assembly sites, both of which correlated with increased Env-induced fusion of infected and uninfected cells. Hence, while Env trapping by Gag secures Env incorporation into viral particles, Env clustering and its sequestration at assembly sites likely also leads to the repression of its fusion function, and thus, by preventing the formation of syncytia, Gag helps to secure efficient transfer of viral particles to target cells.
PMCID: PMC3700267  PMID: 23637402
21.  Intersubunit Disulfide Isomerization Controls Membrane Fusion of Human T-Cell Leukemia Virus Env▿  
Journal of Virology  2008;82(14):7135-7143.
Human T-cell leukemia virus (HTLV-1) Env carries a typical disulfide isomerization motif, C225XXC, in the C-terminal domain SU. Here we have tested whether this motif is used for isomerization of the intersubunit disulfide of Env and whether this rearrangement is required for membrane fusion. We introduced the C225A and C228A mutations into Env and found that the former but not the latter mutant matured into covalently linked SU-TM complexes in transfected cells. Next, we constructed a secreted Env ectodomain and showed that it underwent incubation-dependent intersubunit disulfide isomerization on target cells. However, the rearrangement was blocked by the C225A mutation, suggesting that C225 carried the isomerization-active thiol. Still, it was possible to reduce the intersubunit disulfide of the native C225A ectodomain mutant with dithiothreitol (DTT). The importance of the CXXC-mediated disulfide isomerization for infection was studied using murine leukemia virus vectors pseudotyped with wild-type or C225A HTLV-1 Env. We found that the mutant Env blocked infection, but this could be rescued with DTT. The fusion activity was tested in a fusion-from-within assay using a coculture of rat XC target and transfected BHK-21 effector cells. We found that the mutation blocked polykaryon formation, but this could be reversed with DTT. Similar DTT-reversible inhibition of infection and fusion was observed when a membrane-impermeable alkylator was present during the infection/fusion incubation. We conclude that the fusion activity of HTLV-1 Env is controlled by an SU CXXC-mediated isomerization of the intersubunit disulfide. Thus, this extends the applicability of the isomerization model from gammaretroviruses to deltaretroviruses.
PMCID: PMC2446982  PMID: 18480461
22.  Differential binding of neutralizing and non-neutralizing antibodies to native-like soluble HIV-1 Env trimers, uncleaved Env proteins, and monomeric subunits 
Retrovirology  2014;11:41.
The trimeric envelope glycoproteins (Env) on the surface of HIV-1 virions are the targets for neutralizing antibodies (NAbs). No candidate HIV-1 immunogen has yet induced potent, broadly active NAbs (bNAbs). Part of the explanation may be that previously tested Env proteins inadequately mimic the functional, native Env complex. Trimerization and the proteolytic processing of Env precursors into gp120 and gp41 profoundly alter antigenicity, but soluble cleaved trimers are too unstable to serve as immunogens. By introducing stabilizing mutations (SOSIP), we constructed soluble, cleaved Env trimers derived from the HIV-1 subtype A isolate BG505 that resemble native Env spikes on virions both structurally and antigenically.
We used surface plasmon resonance (SPR) to quantify antibody binding to different forms of BG505 Env: the proteolytically cleaved SOSIP.664 trimers, cleaved gp120-gp41ECTO protomers, and gp120 monomers. Non-NAbs to the CD4-binding site bound only marginally to the trimers but equally well to gp120-gp41ECTO protomers and gp120 monomers, whereas the bNAb VRC01, directed to the CD4bs, bound to all three forms. In contrast, bNAbs to V1V2 glycan-dependent epitopes bound preferentially (PG9 and PG16) or exclusively (PGT145) to trimers. We also explored the antigenic consequences of three different features of SOSIP.664 gp140 trimers: the engineered inter-subunit disulfide bond, the trimer-stabilizing I559P change in gp41ECTO, and proteolytic cleavage at the gp120-gp41ECTO junction. Each of these three features incrementally promoted native-like trimer antigenicity. We compared Fab and IgG versions of bNAbs and validated a bivalent model of IgG binding. The NAbs showed widely divergent binding kinetics and degrees of binding to native-like BG505 SOSIP.664. High off-rate constants and low stoichiometric estimates of NAb binding were associated with large amounts of residual infectivity after NAb neutralization of the corresponding BG505.T332N pseudovirus.
The antigenicity and structural integrity of cleaved BG505 SOSIP.664 trimers render these proteins good mimics of functional Env spikes on virions. In contrast, uncleaved gp140s antigenically resemble individual gp120-gp41ECTO protomers and gp120 monomers, but not native trimers. Although NAb binding to functional trimers may thus be both necessary and sufficient for neutralization, the kinetics and stoichiometry of the interaction influence the neutralizing efficacy of individual NAbs.
PMCID: PMC4067080  PMID: 24884783
23.  Viral determinants of simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) virulence in rhesus macaques assessed by using attenuated and pathogenic molecular clones of SIVmac. 
Journal of Virology  1993;67(10):6047-6055.
To identify viral determinants of simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) virulence, two pairs of reciprocal recombinants constructed from a pathogenic (SIVmac239) and a nonpathogenic (SIVmac1A11) molecular clone of SIV were tested in rhesus macaques. A large 6.2-kb fragment containing gag, pol, env, and the regulatory genes from each of the cloned (parental) viruses was exchanged to produce one pair of recombinant viruses (designated SIVmac1A11/239gag-env/1A11 and SIVmac239/1A11gag-env/239 to indicate the genetic origins of the 5'/internal/3' regions, respectively, of the virus). A smaller 1.4-kb fragment containing the external env domain of each of the parental viruses was exchanged to create the second pair (SIVmac1A11/239env/1A11 and SIVmac239/1A11env/239) of recombinant viruses. Each of the two parental and four recombinant viruses was inoculated intravenously into four rhesus macaques, and all 24 animals were viremic by 4 weeks postinoculation (p.i.). Virus could not be isolated from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) of any animals infected with SIVmac1A11 after 6 weeks p.i. but was consistently isolated from all macaques inoculated with SIVmac239 for 92 weeks p.i. Virus isolation was variable from animals infected with recombinant viruses; SIVmac1A11/239gag-env/1A11 and SIVmac239/1A11env/239 were isolated most frequently. Animals inoculated with SIVmac239 had 10 to 100 times more virus-infected PBMC than those infected with recombinant viruses. Three animals infected with SIVmac239 died with simian AIDS (SAIDS) during the 2-year observation period after inoculation, and the fourth SIVmac239-infected animal had clinical signs of SAIDS. Two animals infected with recombinant viruses died with SAIDS; one was infected with SIVmac239/1A11gag-env/239, and the other was infected with SIVmac1A11/239gag-env/1A11. The remaining 18 macaques remained healthy by 2 years p.i., and 13 were aviremic. One year after inoculation, peripheral lymph nodes of some of these healthy, aviremic animals harbored infected cells. All animals seroconverted within the first few weeks of infection, and the magnitude of antibody response to SIV was proportional to the levels and duration of viremia. Virus-suppressive PBMC were detected within 2 to 4 weeks p.i. in all animals but tended to decline as viremia disappeared. There was no association of levels of cell-mediated virus-suppressive activity and either virus load or disease progression. Taken together, these results indicate that differences in more than one region of the viral genome are responsible for the lack of virulence of SIVmac1A11.
PMCID: PMC238025  PMID: 8371353
24.  Membrane Fusion and Cell Entry of XMRV Are pH-Independent and Modulated by the Envelope Glycoprotein's Cytoplasmic Tail 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e33734.
Xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) is a gammaretrovirus that was originally identified from human prostate cancer patients and subsequently linked to chronic fatigue syndrome. Recent studies showed that XMRV is a recombinant mouse retrovirus; hence, its association with human diseases has become questionable. Here, we demonstrated that XMRV envelope (Env)-mediated pseudoviral infection is not blocked by lysosomotropic agents and cellular protease inhibitors, suggesting that XMRV entry is not pH-dependent. The full length XMRV Env was unable to induce syncytia formation and cell-cell fusion, even in cells overexpressing the viral receptor, XPR1. However, truncation of the C-terminal 21 or 33 amino acid residues in the cytoplasmic tail (CT) of XMRV Env induced substantial membrane fusion, not only in the permissive 293 cells but also in the nonpermissive CHO cells that lack a functional XPR1 receptor. The increased fusion activities of these truncations correlated with their enhanced SU shedding into culture media, suggesting conformational changes in the ectodomain of XMRV Env. Noticeably, further truncation of the CT of XMRV Env proximal to the membrane-spanning domain severely impaired the Env fusogenicity, as well as dramatically decreased the Env incorporations into MoMLV oncoretroviral and HIV-1 lentiviral vectors resulting in greatly reduced viral transductions. Collectively, our studies reveal that XMRV entry does not require a low pH or low pH-dependent host proteases, and that the cytoplasmic tail of XMRV Env critically modulates membrane fusion and cell entry. Our data also imply that additional cellular factors besides XPR1 are likely to be involved in XMRV entry.
PMCID: PMC3313918  PMID: 22479434
25.  The Cytoplasmic Domain of Varicella-Zoster Virus Glycoprotein H Regulates Syncytia Formation and Skin Pathogenesis 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(5):e1004173.
The conserved herpesvirus fusion complex consists of glycoproteins gB, gH, and gL which is critical for virion envelope fusion with the cell membrane during entry. For Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV), the complex is necessary for cell-cell fusion and presumed to mediate entry. VZV causes syncytia formation via cell-cell fusion in skin and in sensory ganglia during VZV reactivation, leading to neuronal damage, a potential contributory factor for the debilitating condition of postherpetic neuralgia. The gH cytoplasmic domain (gHcyt) is linked to the regulation of gB/gH-gL-mediated cell fusion as demonstrated by increased cell fusion in vitro by an eight amino acid (aa834-841) truncation of the gHcyt. The gHcyt regulation was identified to be dependent on the physical presence of the domain, and not of specific motifs or biochemical properties as substitution of aa834-841 with V5, cMyc, and hydrophobic or hydrophilic sequences did not affect fusion. The importance of the gHcyt length was corroborated by stepwise deletions of aa834-841 causing incremental increases in cell fusion, independent of gH surface expression and endocytosis. Consistent with the fusion assay, truncating the gHcyt in the viral genome caused exaggerated syncytia formation and significant reduction in viral titers. Importantly, infection of human skin xenografts in SCID mice was severely impaired by the truncation while maintaining the gHcyt length with the V5 substitution preserved typical replication in vitro and in skin. A role for the gHcyt in modulating the functions of the gB cytoplasmic domain (gBcyt) is proposed as the gHcyt truncation substantially enhanced cell fusion in the presence of the gB[Y881F] mutation. The significant reduction in skin infection caused by hyperfusogenic mutations in either the gHcyt or gBcyt demonstrates that both domains are critical for regulating syncytia formation and failure to control cell fusion, rather than enhancing viral spread, is severely detrimental to VZV pathogenesis.
Author Summary
Varicella zoster virus (VZV) infects the human population globally, causing chickenpox in children and shingles in adults. While those afflicted with shingles experience severe pain that might last from weeks to months, the cause is not known. Biopsies of VZV infected skin and specimens of nerve ganglia collected at autopsy from patients with shingles at the time of death contain multi-nucleated cells, indicating that the virus is able to cause fusion between infected cells. Since the destruction of nerve cells that results from this process is likely to contribute to the pain associated with shingles, it is important to understand how the virus causes infected cells to fuse. We find that VZV cell-cell fusion is regulated by the intracellular facing domain of glycoprotein H (gH), a viral protein present on the surface of infected cells. This regulation was dependent upon the physical length of the domain, not a specific sequence. Loss of this regulation increased cell-cell fusion causing the formation of larger multi-nucleated cells that limited the ability of the virus to effectively spread in human skin. Our study provides new insight into how VZV manipulates host cells during infection and controls the spread of the virus in tissues.
PMCID: PMC4038623  PMID: 24874654

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