Conformational Stability and Membrane Interaction of the Full-Length Ectodomain of HIV-1 gp41: Implication for Mode of Action†
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Membrane fusion between the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and the target cell plasma membrane is correlated with conformational changes in the HIV gp41 glycoprotein, which include an early exposed conformation (prehairpin) and a late low energy six helix bundle (SHB) conformation also termed hairpin. Peptides resembling regions from the exposed prehairpin have been previously studied for their interaction with membranes. Here we report on the expression, purification, SHB stability, and membrane interaction of the full-length ectodomain of the HIV gp41 and its two deletion mutants, all in their SHB-folded state. The interaction of the proteins with zwitterionic and negatively charged membranes was examined by using various biophysical methods including circular dichroism spectroscopy, differential scanning calorimetry, lipid mixing of large unilamellar vesicles, and atomic force microscopy (AFM). All experiments were done in an acidic environment in which the protein remains in its soluble trimeric state. The data reveal that all three proteins fold into a stable coiled-coil core in aqueous solution and retain a stable helical fold with reduced coiled-coil characteristics in a zwitterionic and negatively charged membrane mimetic environment. Furthermore, in contrast with the extended exposed N-terminal domain, the folded gp41 ectodomain does not induce lipid mixing of zwitterionic membranes. However, it disrupts and induces lipid mixing of negatively charged phospholipid membranes (approximately 100-fold more effective than fusion peptide alone), which are known to be expressed more in HIV-1-infected T cells or macrophages. The results support the emerging model in which one of the roles of gp41 folding into the SHB conformation is to slow down membrane disruption effects induced by early exposed gp41. However, it can further affect membrane morphology once exposed to negatively charged membranes during late stages.
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