Background: Resistance to the fusion inhibitor enfuvirtide (ENF) is achieved by changes in the gp41 subunit of the HIV envelope glycoprotein (Env). Specific ENF-associated mutational pathways correlate with immunological recovery, even after virological failure, suggesting that the acquisition of ENF resistance alters gp41 pathogenicity. To test this hypothesis, we have characterized the expression, fusion capability, induction of CD4 + T cell loss and single CD4 + T cell death of 48 gp41 proteins derived from three patients displaying different amino acids (N, T or I) at position 140 that developed a V38A mutation after ENF-based treatment.Results: In all cases, intra-patient comparison of Env isolated pre- or post-treatment showed comparable values of expression and fusogenic capacity. Furthermore, Env with either N or T at position 140 induced comparable losses of CD4 + T-cells, irrespective of the residue present at position 38. Conversely, Env acquiring the V38A mutation in a 140I background induced a significantly reduced loss of CD4 + T cells and lower single-cell death than did their baseline controls. No altered ability to induce single-cell death was observed in the other clones.Conclusions: Overall, primary gp41 proteins with both V38A and N140I changes showed a reduced ability to induce single cell death and deplete CD4 + T cells, despite maintaining fusion activity. The specificity of this phenotype highlights the relevance of the genetic context to the cytopathic capacity of Env and the role of ENF-resistance mutations in modulating viral pathogenicity in vivo, further supporting the hypothesis that gp41 is a critical mediator of HIV pathogenesis. © 2012 Cunyat et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
- Single cell death