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J Virol. 2012 Jul;86(14):7484-95. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00230-12. Epub 2012 May 2.

Neutralization resistance of virological synapse-mediated HIV-1 Infection is regulated by the gp41 cytoplasmic tail.

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  • 1Microbiology Graduate School Training Program, Department of Microbiology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY, USA.


Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection can spread efficiently from infected to uninfected T cells through adhesive contacts called virological synapses (VSs). In this process, cell-surface envelope glycoprotein (Env) initiates adhesion and viral transfer into an uninfected recipient cell. Previous studies have found some HIV-1-neutralizing patient sera to be less effective at blocking VS-mediated infection than infection with cell-free virus. Here we employ sensitive flow cytometry-based infection assays to measure the inhibitory potency of HIV-1-neutralizing monoclonal antibodies (MAb) and HIV-1-neutralizing patient sera against cell-free and VS-mediated infection. To various degrees, anti-Env MAbs exhibited significantly higher 50% inhibitory concentration (IC(50)s) against VS-mediated infection than cell-free infection. Notably, the MAb 17b, which binds a CD4-induced (CD4i) epitope on gp120, displayed a 72-fold reduced efficacy against VS-mediated inocula compared to cell-free inocula. A mutant with truncation mutation in the gp41 cytoplasmic tail (CT) which is unable to modulate Env fusogenicity in response to virus particle maturation but which can still engage in cell-to-cell infection was tested for the ability to resist neutralizing antibodies. The ΔCT mutation increased cell surface staining by neutralizing antibodies, significantly enhanced neutralization of VS-mediated infection, and had reduced or no effect on cell-free infection, depending upon the antibody. Our results suggest that the gp41 CT regulates the exposure of key neutralizing epitopes during cell-to-cell infection and plays an important role in immune evasion. Vaccine strategies should consider immunogens that reflect Env conformations exposed on the infected cell surface to enhance protection against VS-mediated HIV-1 spread.

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