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Biochemistry. 2005 Oct 18;44(41):13602-11.

The 2F5 epitope is helical in the HIV-1 entry inhibitor T-20.

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Department of Structural Biology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel.


The HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein gp41 is responsible for viral fusion with the host cell. The fusion process, as well as the full structure of gp41, is not completely understood. One of the strongest inhibitors of HIV-1 fusion is a 36-residue peptide named T-20, gp41(638-673) (Fuzeon, also called Enfuvirtide or DP-178; residues are numbered according to the HXB2 gp160 variant) now used as an anti HIV-1 drug. This peptide also contains the immunogenic sequences that represent the full or partial recognition epitope for the broadly neutralizing human monoclonal antibodies 2F5 and 4E10, respectively. Due to its hydrophobicity, T-20 tends to aggregate at high concentrations in water, and therefore the structure of this molecule in aqueous solution has not been previously determined. We expressed a uniformly 13C/15N-labeled 42-residue peptide NN-T-20-NITN (gp41(636-677)) and used heteronuclear 2D and 3D NMR methods to determine its structure. Due to the additional gp41-native hydrophilic residues, NN-T-20-NITN dissolved in water, enabling for the first time determination of its secondary structure at near physiological conditions. Our results show that the NN-T-20-NITN peptide is composed of a mostly unstructured N-terminal region and a helical region beginning at the center of T-20 and extending toward the C-terminus. The helical region is found under various conditions and has been observed also in a 13-residue peptide gp41(659-671). We suggest that this helical conformation is maintained in most of the different tertiary structures of the gp41 envelope protein that form during the process of viral fusion. Accordingly, an important element of the immunogenicity of gp41 and the inhibitory properties of Fuzeon may be the propensity of specific sequences in these polypeptides to assume helical structures.

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