Unique functional properties of conserved arginine residues in the Lentivirus Lytic Peptide domains of the C-terminal tail of HIV-1 gp41 [Microbiology]

February 4th, 2014 by Kuhlmann, A.-S., Steckbeck, J. D., Sturgeon, T. J., Craigo, J. K., Montelaro, R. C.

A previous study from our laboratory reported a preferential conservation of arginine relative to lysine in the C-terminal tail (CTT) of HIV-1 Envelope (Env). Despite substantial overall sequence variation in the CTT, specific arginines are highly conserved in the lentivirus lytic peptide (LLP) motifs and are scarcely substituted by lysines, in contrast to gp120 and the ectodomain of gp41. However, to date, no explanation has been provided to explain the selective incorporation and conservation of arginines over lysines in these motifs. Herein, we address the functions in virus replication of the most conserved arginines by performing conservative mutations of arginine to lysine in the LLP1 and LLP2 motifs. The presence of lysine in place of arginine in the LLP1 motif resulted in significant impairment of Env expression and consequently virus replication kinetics, Env fusogenicity and incorporation. By contrast, lysine exchanges in LLP2 only affected the level of Env incorporation and fusogenicity. Our findings demonstrate that the conservative lysine substitutions significantly affect Env functional properties indicating a unique functional role for the highly conserved arginines in the LLP motifs. These results provide for the first time a functional explanation to the preferred incorporation of arginine, relative to lysine, in the CTT of HIV-1 Env. We propose that these arginines may provide unique functions for Env interaction with viral or cellular cofactors that then influence overall Env functional properties.
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