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J Virol. 2000 Jan;74(2):693-701.

Determinants of syncytium formation in microglia by human immunodeficiency virus type 1: role of the V1/V2 domains.

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Department of Neurology, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.


Microglia are the main reservoir for human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) in the central nervous system (CNS), and multinucleated giant cells, the result of fusion of HIV-1-infected microglia and brain macrophages, are the neuropathologic hallmark of HIV dementia. One potential explanation for the formation of syncytia is viral adaptation for these CD4(+) CNS cells. HIV-1(BORI-15), a virus adapted to growth in microglia by sequential passage in vitro, mediates high levels of fusion and replicates more efficiently in microglia and monocyte-derived-macrophages than its unpassaged parent (J. M. Strizki, A. V. Albright, H. Sheng, M. O'Connor, L. Perrin, and F. Gonzalez-Scarano, J. Virol. 70:7654-7662, 1996). Since the interaction between the viral envelope glycoprotein and CD4 and the chemokine receptor mediates fusion and plays a key role in tropism, we have analyzed the HIV-1(BORI-15) env as a fusogen and in recombinant and pseudotyped viruses. Its syncytium-forming phenotype is not the result of a switch in coreceptor use but rather of the HIV-1(BORI-15) envelope-mediated fusion of CD4(+)CCR5(+) cells with greater efficiency than that of its parental strain, either by itself or in the context of a recombinant virus. Genetic analysis indicated that the syncytium-forming phenotype was due to four discrete amino acid differences in V1/V2, with a single-amino-acid change between the parent and the adapted virus (E153G) responsible for the majority of the effect. Additionally, HIV-1(BORI-15) env-pseudotyped viruses were less sensitive to decreases in the levels of CD4 on transfected 293T cells, leading to the hypothesis that the differences in V1/V2 alter the interaction between this envelope and CD4 or CCR5, or both. In sum, the characterization of the envelope of HIV-1(BORI-15), a highly fusogenic glycoprotein with genetic determinants in V1/V2, may lead to a better understanding of the relationship between HIV replication and syncytium formation in the CNS and of the importance of this region of gp120 in the interaction with CD4 and CCR5.

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