The site of an immune-selected point mutation in the transmembrane protein of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 does not constitute the neutralization epitope
HIV Envelope Protein gp41
We previously reported the in vitro generation of a neutralization-resistant variant of the molecularly cloned isolate of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1), HXB2D. The molecular basis for the resistance was shown to be a point mutation in the env gene, causing the substitution of threonine for alanine at position 582 of gp41. Here, we show the variant to be resistant to syncytium inhibition as well as to neutralization by the immune-selecting serum. Moreover, 30% of HIV-positive human sera able to neutralize the parental virus have significantly decreased ability to neutralize the variant. As the A-to-T substitution thus has general relevance to the interaction of HIV-1 with the host immune system, we investigated further the biologic and immunologic bases for the altered properties. Synthetic peptides corresponding to the 582 region failed to compete in infectivity, neutralization, or syncytium inhibition assays and did not elicit neutralizing antibodies. Furthermore, human antibodies, affinity purified on synthetic peptide resins, bound to gp41 and peptides from the 582 region but did not possess neutralizing antibody activity. Some viral constructs in which the AVERY sequence in the 582 region was altered by site-directed mutagenesis were not infectious, indicating that the primary structure in this region is crucial for viral infectivity. Constructs predicted to possess a local secondary structure similar to that of the variant nevertheless behaved like the parental virus and remained neutralization sensitive. These results suggest that the requirements for neutralization resistance in this region are very precise. Our results with synthetic peptides show that the 582 region does not by itself constitute a neutralization epitope. Moreover, the degree of flexibility in amino acid substitution which allows maintenance of neutralization sensitivity suggests that position 582 does not form part of a noncontiguous neutralization epitope. The basis for neutralization resistance of the immune-selected variant is more likely a conformational change altering a neutralization epitope at a distant site.