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AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2006 Oct;22(10):1014-21.

High incidence of unusual cysteine variants in gp120 envelope proteins from early HIV type 1 infections from a Phase 3 vaccine efficacy trial.

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VaxGen Inc., South San Francisco, California 94080, USA.

Erratum in

  • AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2007 Jan;23(1):181.


During the course of a large-scale HIV-1 vaccine field trial (VAX004), full-length gp120 sequences were determined for 349 new HIV-1 infections. The data collected represent the largest survey of full-length gp120 sequences from new HIV-1 infections ever assembled. Previous studies have shown that subtype B viruses typically possess 18 cysteine residues that are covalently linked to form 9 conserved disulfide bridges. However, in this study we found that approximately 20% of the trial participants possessed envelope proteins with an unusual number of cysteine residues that could very likely result in unusual protein structures. One class of variants included envelope proteins with two additional cysteine residues in close proximity, potentially yielding additional disulfide-bonded loops. Other classes of variants included envelope proteins where amino acid replacements increased or decreased the number of cysteine residues by one, resulting in molecules with either 19 or 17 cysteines, respectively. Initial functional analysis demonstrated that envelope proteins with 19 cysteine residues bind to CD4 and the CCR5 chemokine coreceptor, and are infectious. These results suggest that the protein structure of gp120 in newly transmitted viruses may be more heterogeneous than previously appreciated and potentially represent a new mechanism of virus variation. The disulfide variation that we report here may have important implications for HIV vaccine and drug development efforts.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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