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Retrovirology. 2008 Mar 13;5:26. doi: 10.1186/1742-4690-5-26.

Turning up the volume on mutational pressure: is more of a good thing always better? (A case study of HIV-1 Vif and APOBEC3).

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94121, USA.


APOBEC3G and APOBEC3F are human cytidine deaminases that serve as innate antiviral defense mechanisms primarily by introducing C-to-U changes in the minus strand DNA of retroviruses during replication (resulting in G-to-A mutations in the genomic sense strand sequence). The HIV-1 Vif protein counteracts this defense by promoting the proteolytic degradation of APOBEC3G and APOBEC3F in the host cell. In the absence of Vif expression, APOBEC3 is incorporated into HIV-1 virions and the viral genome undergoes extensive G-to-A mutation, or "hypermutation", typically rendering it non-viable within a single replicative cycle. Consequently, Vif is emerging as an attractive target for pharmacological intervention and therapeutic vaccination. Although a highly effective Vif inhibitor may result in mutational meltdown of the viral quasispecies, a partially effective Vif inhibitor may accelerate the evolution of drug resistance and immune escape due to the codon structure and recombinogenic nature of HIV-1. This hypothesis rests on two principal assumptions which are supported by experimental evidence: a) there is a dose response between intracellular APOBEC concentration and degree of viral hypermutation, and, b) HIV-1 can tolerate an elevated mutation rate, and a true error or extinction threshold is as yet undetermined. Rigorous testing of this hypothesis will have timely and critical implications for the therapeutic management of HIV/AIDS, and delve into the complexities underlying the induction of lethal mutagenesis in a viral pathogen.

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