Comparative Analysis of Membrane-Associated Fusion Peptide Secondary Structure and Lipid Mixing Function of HIV gp41 Constructs that Model the Early Pre-Hairpin Intermediate and Final Hairpin Conformations
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Fusion between viral and host cell membranes is the initial step of human immunodeficiency virus infection and is mediated by the gp41 protein, which is embedded in the viral membrane. The approximately 20-residue N-terminal fusion peptide (FP) region of gp41 binds to the host cell membrane and plays a critical role in fusion catalysis. Key gp41 fusion conformations include an early pre-hairpin intermediate (PHI) characterized by extended coiled-coil structure in the region C-terminal of the FP and a final hairpin state with compact six-helix bundle structure. The large "N70" (gp41 1-70) and "FP-Hairpin" constructs of the present study contained the FP and respectively modeled the PHI and hairpin conformations. Comparison was also made to the shorter "FP34" (gp41 1-34) fragment. Studies were done in membranes with physiologically relevant cholesterol content and in membranes without cholesterol. In either membrane type, there were large differences in fusion function among the constructs with little fusion induced by FP-Hairpin, moderate fusion for FP34, and very rapid fusion for N70. Overall, our findings support acceleration of gp41-induced membrane fusion by early PHI conformation and fusion arrest after folding to the final six-helix bundle structure. FP secondary structure at Leu7 of the membrane-associated constructs was probed by solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance and showed populations of molecules with either beta-sheet or helical structure with greater beta-sheet population observed for FP34 than for N70 or FP-Hairpin. The large differences in fusion function among the constructs were not obviously correlated with FP secondary structure. Observation of cholesterol-dependent FP structure for fusogenic FP34 and N70 and cholesterol-independent structure for non-fusogenic FP-Hairpin was consistent with membrane insertion of the FP for FP34 and N70 and with lack of insertion for FP-Hairpin. Membrane insertion of the FP may therefore be associated with the early PHI conformation and FP withdrawal with the final hairpin conformation.
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