[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The gp41 subunit of the HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein (Env) has been widely regarded as a type I transmembrane protein with a single membrane-spanning domain (MSD). An alternative topology model suggested multiple MSDs. The major discrepancy between the two models is that the cytoplasmic Kennedy sequence in the single MSD model is assigned as the extracellular loop accessible to neutralizing antibodies in the other model. We examined the membrane topology of the gp41 subunit in both prokaryotic and mammalian systems. We attached topological markers to the C-termini of serially truncated gp41. In the prokaryotic system, we utilized a green fluorescent protein (GFP) that is only active in the cytoplasm. The tag protein (HaloTag) and a membrane-impermeable ligand specific to HaloTag was used in the mammalian system.
In the absence of membrane fusion, both the prokaryotic and mammalian systems (293FT cells) supported the single MSD model. In the presence of membrane fusion in mammalian cells (293CD4 cells), the data obtained seem to support the multiple MSD model. However, the region predicted to be a potential MSD is the highly hydrophilic Kennedy sequence and is least likely to become a MSD based on several algorithms. Further analysis revealed the induction of membrane permeability during membrane fusion, allowing the membrane-impermeable ligand and antibodies to cross the membrane. Therefore, we cannot completely rule out the possible artifacts. Addition of membrane fusion inhibitors or alterations of the MSD sequence decreased the induction of membrane permeability.
It is likely that a single MSD model for HIV-1 gp41 holds true even in the presence of membrane fusion. The degree of the augmentation of membrane permeability we observed was dependent on the membrane fusion and sequence of the MSD.