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Virology. 1997 Dec 8;239(1):108-18.

Patterns of amino acid variability in NSI-like and SI-like V3 sequences and a linked change in the CD4-binding domain of the HIV-1 Env protein.

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Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 27599, USA.


The V3 domain plays a central role in the biology of the HIV-1 Env glycoprotein gp 120 as a dominant target for neutralizing antibodies for some HIV-1 isolates, and as a major determinant in the switch from the nonsyncytium-inducing (NSI) to the syncytium-inducing (SI) form of HIV-1 that is associated with accelerated disease progression. Basic amino acid substitutions are known to play an important role in the SI phenotype. We have used the presence of basic amino acid substitutions in V3 sequences to divide sequences in a large data base into SI-like and NSI-like. We found significant differences in features of sequence variability between these two groups of sequences. Of the thirty-six most frequent substitutions in V3, twenty appear disproportionately among either the SI-like sequences or the NSI-like sequences. The fourteen favored substitutions among the SI-like sequences account for 50% of the twofold increased variability seen in this group. In addition, we found a linked change within the CD4-binding domain of gp 120 downstream of V3. These differences are interpreted in the context of structure, function, and selective pressure. An understanding of these patterns of sequence variability offers the possibility of designing a degenerate SI-specific V3 immunogen to use as a therapeutic vaccine with the hope of slowing or preventing the appearance of SI variants.

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