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J Biol Chem. 2009 Feb 20;284(8):4914-20. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M807169200. Epub 2008 Dec 10.

Design of peptide-based inhibitors for human immunodeficiency virus type 1 strains resistant to T-20.

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Institute for Virus Research, Kyoto University, 53 Kawaramachi, Shogoin, Kyoto 606-8507, Japan.


Enfuvirtide (T-20) is a fusion inhibitor that suppresses replication of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) variants with multi-drug resistance to reverse transcriptase and protease inhibitors. It is a peptide derived from the C-terminal heptad repeat (C-HR) of HIV-1 gp41, and it prevents interactions between the C-HR and the N-terminal HR (N-HR) of gp41, thus interfering with conformational changes that are required for viral fusion. However, prolonged therapies with T-20 result in the emergence of T-20-resistant strains that contain primary mutations such as N43D in the N-HR of gp41 (where T-20 and C-HR bind) that help the virus escape at a fitness cost. Such variants often go on to acquire a secondary mutation, S138A, in the C-HR of gp41 region that corresponds to the sequence of T-20. We demonstrate here that the role of S138A is to compensate for the impaired fusion kinetics of HIV-1s carrying primary mutations that abrogate binding of T-20. To preempt this escape strategy, we designed a modified T-20 variant containing the S138A substitution and showed that it is a potent inhibitor of both T-20-sensitive and T-20-resistant viruses. Circular dichroism analysis revealed that the S138A provided increased stability of the 6-helix bundle. We validated our approach on another fusion inhibitor, C34. In this case, we designed a variant of C34 with the secondary escape mutation N126K and showed that it can effectively inhibit replication of C34-resistant HIV-1. These results prove that it is possible to design improved peptide-based fusion inhibitors that are efficient against a major mechanism of drug resistance.

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