Glycan deletions in the HIV-1 gp120 V1/V2 domain compromise viral infectivity, sensitize the mutant virus strains to carbohydrate-binding agents and represent a specific target for therapeutic intervention
Carbohydrate-binding agents (CBAs), such as the mannose-specific Hippeastrum hybrid agglutinin (HHA) and the GlcNAc-specific Urtica dioica agglutinin (UDA), frequently select for glycan deletions in all different domains of HIV-1 gp120, except in the V1/V2 domain. To reveal the underlying mechanisms, a broad variety of 31 different virus strains containing one or several N-glycan deletions in V1/V2 of the gp120 of the X4-tropic HIV-1(NL4.3) were constructed by chimeric virus technology. No co-receptor switch to CCR5 was observed for any of the replication-competent mutant virus strains. With a few exceptions, the more glycans were deleted in the gp120 V1/V2 domain, the more the replication capacity of the mutant viruses became compromised. None of the mutant virus strains showed a markedly decreased sensitivity to the inhibitory activity of HHA and UDA. Instead, an up to 2- to 10-fold higher sensitivity to the inhibitory activity of these CBAs was observed. Our data may provide an explanation why glycan deletions in the gp120 V1/V2 domain rarely occur under CBA pressure and confirm the important functional role of the glycans in the HIV-1 gp120 V1/V2 domain. The gp120 V1/V2 loop glycans of HIV-1 should therefore be considered as a hot spot and novel target for specific therapeutic drug intervention.