A conserved tryptophan-rich motif in the membrane-proximal region of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 gp41 ectodomain is important for Env- mediated fusion and virus infectivity

Karl Salzwedel, John T. West, Eric Hunter

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Mutations were introduced into the ectodomain of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) transmembrane envelope glycoprotein, gp41, within a region immediately adjacent to the membrane-spanning domain. This region, which is predicted to form an α-helix, contains highly conserved hydrophobic residues and is unusually rich in tryptophan residues. In addition, this domain overlaps the epitope of a neutralizing monoclonal antibody, 2F5, as well as the sequence corresponding to a peptide, DP-178, shown to potently neutralize virus. Site-directed mutagenesis was used to create deletions, substitutions, and insertions centered around a stretch of 17 hydrophobic and uncharged amino acids (residues 666 to 682 of the HXB2 strain of HIV-1) in order to determine the role of this region in the maturation and function of the envelope glycoprotein. Deletion of the entire stretch of 17 amino acids abrogated the ability of the envelope glycoprotein to mediate both cell-cell fusion and virus entry without affecting the normal maturation, transport, or CD4-binding ability of the protein. This phenotype was also demonstrated by substituting alanine residues for three of the five tryptophan residues within this sequence. Smaller deletions, as well as multiple amino acid substitutions, were also found to inhibit but not block cell-cell fusion. These results demonstrate the crucial role of a tryptophan- rich motif in gp41 during a post-CD4-binding step of glycoprotein-mediated fusion. The basis for the invariant nature of the tryptophans, however, appears to be at the level of glycoprotein incorporation into virions. Even the substitution of phenylalanine for a single tryptophan residue was sufficient to reduce Env incorporation and drop the efficiency of virus entry approximately 10-fold, despite the fact that the same mutation had no significant effect on syncytium formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2469-2480
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 4 1999


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology

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