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J Virol. 2004 Mar;78(5):2586-90.

Tat protein of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 subtype C strains is a defective chemokine.

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  • 1Molecular Virology Laboratory, Molecular Biology and Genetics Unit, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bangalore, India.


Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1)-associated dementia (HAD) is correlated with increased monocyte migration to the brain, and the incidence of HAD among otherwise asymptomatic subjects appears to be lower in India than in the United States and Europe (1 to 2% versus 15 to 30%). Because of the genetic differences between HIV-1 strains circulating in these regions, we sought to identify viral determinants associated with this difference. We targeted Tat protein for these studies in view of its association with monocyte chemotactic function. Analyses of Tat sequences representing nine subtypes revealed that at least six amino acid residues are differentially conserved in subtype C Tat (C-Tat). Of these, cysteine (at position 31) was highly (>99%) conserved in non-subtype C viruses and more than 90% of subtype C viruses encoded a serine. We hypothesized a compromised chemotactic function of C-Tat due to the disruption of CC motif and tested it with the wild type C-Tat (CS) and its two isogenic variants (CC and SC) derived by site-directed mutagenesis. We found that the CS natural variant was defective for monocyte chemotactic activity without a loss in the transactivation property. While the CC mutant is functionally competent for both the functions, in contrast, the SC mutant was defective in both. Therefore, the loss of the C-Tat chemotactic property may underlie the reduced incidence of HAD; although not presenting conclusive evidence, this study provides the first evidence for a potential epidemiologic phenomenon associated with biological differences in the subtype C viruses.

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