Efficient Fusion at Neutral pH by Human Immunodeficiency Virus gp41 Trimers containing the Fusion Peptide and Transmembrane Domain.

Research paper by Shuang S Liang, Punsisi P Ratnayake, Craig C Keinath, Lihui L Jia, Robert R Wolfe, Ahinsa A Ranaweera, David P DP Weliky

Indexed on: 19 Jan '18Published on: 19 Jan '18Published in: Biochemistry


Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is membrane-enveloped and an initial infection step is joining/fusion of viral and cell membranes. This step is catalyzed by gp41 which is a single-pass integral viral membrane protein. The protein contains a ~170-residue ectodomain located outside the virus that is important for fusion, and includes the fusion peptide (FP), N-helix, loop, C-helix, and viral membrane-proximal external region (MPER). The virion initially has non-covalent complexes between three gp41 ectodomains and three gp120 proteins. A gp120 contains ~500-residues and functions to identify target T-cells and macrophages via binding to specific protein receptors of the target cell membrane. Gp120 moves away from the gp41 ectodomain, and the ectodomain is thought to bind to the target cell membrane and mediate membrane fusion. The secondary and tertiary structures of the ectodomain are different in the initial complex with gp120 and the final state without gp120. There isn't yet imaging of gp41 during fusion, so the temporal relationship between the gp41 and membrane structures isn't known. The present study describes biophysical and functional characterization of large gp41 constructs that include the ectodomain and transmembrane domain (TM). Significant fusion is observed of both neutral and anionic vesicles at neutral pH which reflects the expected conditions of HIV/cell fusion. Fusion is enhanced by the FP, which in HIV/cell fusion likely contacts the host membrane, and the MPER and TM, which respectively interfacially contact and traverse the HIV membrane. Initial contact with vesicles is made by protein trimers which are in a native oligomeric state that reflects the initial complex with gp120, and also is commonly observed for the ectodomain without gp120. Circular dichroism data support helical structure for the N-helix, C-helix, and MPER, and non-helical structure for the FP and loop. Distributions of monomer, trimer, and hexamer states are observed by size-exclusion chromatography (SEC), with dependences on solubilizing detergent and construct. These SEC and other data are integrated into a refined working model of HIV/cell fusion that includes dissociation of the ectodomain into gp41 monomers followed by folding into hairpins that appose the two membranes, and subsequent fusion catalysis by trimers and hexamers of hairpins. The monomer and oligomer gp41 states may therefore satisfy dual requirements for HIV entry of membrane apposition and fusion.