Soluble mimetics of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 viral spikes produced by replacement of the native trimerization domain with a heterologous trimerization motif: Characterization and ligand binding analysis
The human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) exterior envelope glycoprotein, gp120, mediates binding to the viral receptors and, along with the transmembrane glycoprotein gp41, is a major target for neutralizing antibodies. We asked whether replacing the gp41 fusion/trimerization domain with a stable trimerization motif might lead to a more stable gp120 trimer that would be amenable to structural and immunologic analysis. To obtain stable gp120 trimers, a heterologous trimerization motif, GCN4, was appended to the C terminus of YU2gp120. Biochemical analysis indicated that the gp120-GCN4 trimers were superior to gp140 molecules in their initial homogeneity, and trilobed structures were observable by electron microscopy. Biophysical analysis of gp120-GCN4 trimers by isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC) and ultracentrifugation analyses indicated that most likely two molecules of soluble CD4 could bind to one gp120-GCN4 trimer. To further examine restricted CD4 stoichiometric binding to the gp120-GCN4 trimers, we generated a low-affinity CD4 binding trimer by introducing a D457V change in the CD4 binding site of each gp120 monomeric subunit. The mutant trimers could definitively bind only one soluble CD4 molecule, as determined by ITC and sedimentation equilibrium centrifugation. These data indicate that there are weak interactions between the gp120 monomeric subunits of the GCN4-stabilized trimers that can be detected by low-affinity ligand sensing. By similar analysis, we also determined that removal of the variable loops V1, V2, and V3 in the context of the gp120-GCN4 proteins allowed the binding of three CD4 molecules per trimer. Interestingly, both the gp120-GCN4 variants displayed a restricted stoichiometry for the CD4-induced antibody 17b of one antibody molecule binding per trimer. This restriction was not evident upon removal of the variable loops V1 and V2 loops, consistent with conformational constraints in the wild-type gp120 trimers and similar to those inherent in the functional Env spike. Thus, the gp120-GCN4 trimers demonstrate several properties that are consistent with some of those anticipated for gp120 in the context of the viral spike.