BackgroundCarbohydrate-binding agents (CBAs) are potent antiretroviral compounds that target the N-glycans on the HIV-1 envelope glycoproteins. The development of phenotypic resistance to CBAs by the virus is accompanied by the deletion of multiple N-linked glycans of the surface envelope glycoprotein gp120. Recently, also an N-glycan on the transmembrane envelope glycoprotein gp41 was shown to be deleted during CBA resistance development.ResultsWe generated HIV-1 mutants lacking gp41 N-glycans and determined the influence of these glycan deletions on the viral phenotype (infectivity, CD4 binding, envelope glycoprotein incorporation in the viral particle and on the transfected cell, virus capture by DC-SIGN+ cells and transmission of DC-SIGN-captured virions to CD4+ T-lymphocytes) and on the phenotypic susceptibility of HIV-1 to a selection of CBAs. It was shown that some gp41 N-glycans are crucial for the infectivity of the virus. In particular, lack of an intact N616 glycosylation site was shown to result in the loss of viral infectivity of several (i.e. the X4-tropic IIIB and NL4.3 strains, and the X4/R5-tropic HE strain), but not all (i.e. the R5-tropic ADA strain) studied HIV-1 strains. In accordance, we found that the gp120 levels in the envelope of N616Q mutant gp41 strains NL4.3, IIIB and HE were severely decreased. In contrast, N616Q gp41 mutant HIV-1ADA contained gp120 levels similar to the gp120 levels in WT HIV-1ADA virus. Concomitantly deleting multiple gp41 N-glycans was often highly detrimental for viral infectivity. Using surface plasmon resonance technology we showed that CBAs have a pronounced affinity for both gp120 and gp41. However, the antiviral activity of CBAs is not dependent on the concomitant presence of all gp41 glycans. Single gp41 glycan deletions had no marked effects on CBA susceptibility, whereas some combinations of two to three gp41 glycan-deletions had a minor effect on CBA activity.ConclusionsWe revealed the importance of some gp41 N-linked glycans, in particular the N616 glycan which was shown to be absolutely indispensable for the infectivity potential of several virus strains. In addition, we demonstrated that the deletion of up to three gp41 N-linked glycans only slightly affected CBA susceptibility.