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Virology. 1996 Jun 1;220(1):141-51.

The human immunodeficiency virus type 1 Vpu protein tethered to the CD4 extracellular domain is localized to the plasma membrane and is biologically active in the secretory pathway of mammalian cells: implications for the mechanisms of Vpu function.

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Department of Molecular Biology, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Ohio 44195, USA.


The HIV-1 Vpu protein induces the proteolysis of CD4 in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and enhances the release of virus particles from the plasma membrane. The two biological activities of HIV-1 Vpu appear to be reconstituted in distinct membrane compartments of the mammalian cell. We carried out experiments to understand the role of Vpu sequences in membrane trafficking of the Vpu protein and to gain insights into Vpu-mediated proteolytic reactions. To this end, we generated CD4/Vpu hybrid proteins and analyzed their biochemical and biological properties in HeLa cells. We show here that all hybrid proteins are delivered to the plasma membrane undergoing endo-H-resistant modifications in the Golgi complex. Importantly, a hybrid protein bearing the CD4 extracellular domain and full-length Vpu induced the degradation of HIV envelope glycoproteins bearing the transmembrane and cytoplasmic domains of CD4 (Vpu-responsive elements, VRE). Glycoproteins lacking the VRE are stable under these conditions. In addition, a hybrid protein having the extracellular-transmembrane domains of CD4 and the Vpu cytoplasmic domain was only partially active in inducing the degradation of Vpu-sensitive proteins. These results suggest that the Vpu transmembrane domain is capable of regulating Vpu activity in the cell. Mutational studies have further demonstrated that casein kinase-2 phosphorylation is critically important in the degradation reaction, but does not regulate membrane trafficking of the CD4/Vpu hybrid proteins. We also show that the CD4 extracellular domain appended to the Vpu protein is protected from degradation while existing in a complex with Vpu-sensitive ectodomains. Taken together, these studies have revealed that the Vpu protein does not possess sequences that have the ability to sequester CD4 in the intracellular compartments of mammalian cells and that the Vpu protein tethered to the CD4 extracellular domain was biologically active in inducing the degradation of VRE-bearing glycoproteins in the ER.

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