Molecular and Bioinformatic Analysis of Neurotropic HIV Envelope Glycoproteins

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Molecular and Bioinformatic Analysis of Neurotropic HIV Envelope Glycoproteins

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Title: Molecular and Bioinformatic Analysis of Neurotropic HIV Envelope Glycoproteins
Author: Mefford, Megan
Citation: Mefford, Megan. 2012. Molecular and Bioinformatic Analysis of Neurotropic HIV Envelope Glycoproteins. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection of macrophages in brain and other tissues plays an important role in development of HIV-associated neurological disorders and other aspects of disease pathogenesis. Macrophages express low levels of CD4, and macrophage-tropic HIV strains express envelope glycoproteins (Envs) adapted to overcome this restriction to virus entry by mechanisms that are not well characterized. One mechanism that influences this phenotype is increased exposure of the CD4 or CCR5 binding site, which may increase dissociation of soluble gp120 (sgp120) from Env trimers based on structural models. Little is known about spontaneous sgp120 shedding from primary HIV Envs or its biological significance. In this dissertation, we identify genetic determinants in brain-derived Envs that overcome the restriction imposed by low CD4, examine spontaneous sgp120 shedding by these Envs, and explore the biological significance of these findings. Sequence analysis of the gp120 beta-3 strand of the CCR5-binding site bridging sheet identified D197, which eliminates an N-linked glycosylation site, as a viral determinant associated with brain infection and HIV-associated dementia (HAD), and position 200 as a positively-selected codon in HAD patients. Mutagenesis studies showed that D197 and T/V200 enhance fusion and infection of macrophages and other cells expressing low CD4 by enhancing gp120 binding to CCR5. Sgp120 shedding from primary brain and lymphoid Envs was highly variable within and between patients, representing a spectrum rather than a categorical phenotype. Brain Envs with high sgp120 shedding mediated enhanced fusion and infection with cells expressing low CD4. Furthermore, viruses expressing brain Envs with high sgp120 shedding had an increased capacity to induce lymphocyte activation during PBMC infection, despite similar levels of viral replication. Genetic analysis demonstrated greater entropy and positive selection in Envs with high versus low levels of sgp120 shedding, suggesting that diversifying evolution influences gp120-gp41 association. Finally, we examined V3 loop sequences from dual-tropic brain and lymphoid Envs and found that the frequency of R5X4 HIV-1 is underestimated by most predictive bioinformatic algorithms. Together, these studies provide a better understanding of how neurotropic HIV Envs adapt to target cells expressing low CD4, and possible roles of these viral adaptations in disease pathogenesis.
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