Send to

Choose Destination
J Mol Biol. 2006 Dec 15;364(5):1103-17. Epub 2006 Sep 5.

Functional and structural characterization of HIV-1 gp41 ectodomain regions in phospholipid membranes suggests that the fusion-active conformation is extended.

Author information

Department of Biological Chemistry, The Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, 76100 Israel.


HIV-1 entry into its host cell involves a sequential interaction whereby gp41 is in direct contact with the plasma membrane. Understanding the effect of membrane composition on the fusion mechanism can shed light on the unsolved phases of this complex mechanism. Here, we studied N36, a peptide derived from the N-heptad-repeat (NHR) of the gp41 ectodomain, its six helix bundle (SHB) forming counterpart C34, together with the N-terminal 70-mer wild-type peptide (N70), and additional gp41 ectodomain-derived peptides in the presence of two membranes, modeling inner and outer leaflets of the plasma membrane. Information on the structure of these peptides, their affinity towards phospholipids and their ability to induce vesicle fusion was gathered by a variety of fluorescence, spectroscopic and microscopy methods. We found that N36, having strong affinity towards phospholipids, prominently shifts conformation from alpha-helix in an outer leaflet-like zwitterionic membrane to beta-sheet in a membrane mimicking the negatively charged inner leaflet environment, leading to pronounced fusion-activity. Real-time atomic force microscopy (AFM) was used to study the peptides' effect on the membrane morphology, revealing severe bilayer perturbation and extensive pore formation. We also found, that the N36/C34 core is destabilized by electronegative, but not zwitterionic phospholipids. Taken together, our data suggest that the fusion-active pore forming conformation of gp41 is extended, upstream of the SHB. In this manner, folding of the ectodomain into a SHB might also serve as a negative regulator of fusion by impeding gp41 fusion-active surfaces, thus preventing irreversible damage to the cell membrane. This assumption is supported by the finding that pre-incubation of large unilamellar vesicles (LUV) with C-heptad repeat (CHR)-derived fusion inhibitors reduces the fusogenic activity of N-terminal peptides in a dose-dependant manner, and suggests that CHR-derived fusion inhibitors inhibit HIV entry in an analogous mechanism.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center