Role of complex carbohydrates in human immunodeficiency virus type 1 infection and resistance to antibody neutralization

J Virol. 2010 Jun;84(11):5637-55. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00105-10. Epub 2010 Mar 24.


Complex N-glycans flank the receptor binding sites of the outer domain of HIV-1 gp120, ostensibly forming a protective "fence" against antibodies. Here, we investigated the effects of rebuilding this fence with smaller glycoforms by expressing HIV-1 pseudovirions from a primary isolate in a human cell line lacking N-acetylglucosamine transferase I (GnTI), the enzyme that initiates the conversion of oligomannose N-glycans into complex N-glycans. Thus, complex glycans, including those that surround the receptor binding sites, are replaced by fully trimmed oligomannose stumps. Conversely, the untrimmed oligomannoses of the silent domain of gp120 are likely to remain unchanged. For comparison, we produced a mutant virus lacking a complex N-glycan of the V3 loop (N301Q). Both variants exhibited increased sensitivities to V3 loop-specific monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) and soluble CD4. The N301Q virus was also sensitive to "nonneutralizing" MAbs targeting the primary and secondary receptor binding sites. Endoglycosidase H treatment resulted in the removal of outer domain glycans from the GnTI- but not the parent Env trimers, and this was associated with a rapid and complete loss in infectivity. Nevertheless, the glycan-depleted trimers could still bind to soluble receptor and coreceptor analogs, suggesting a block in post-receptor binding conformational changes necessary for fusion. Collectively, our data show that the antennae of complex N-glycans serve to protect the V3 loop and CD4 binding site, while N-glycan stems regulate native trimer conformation, such that their removal can lead to global changes in neutralization sensitivity and, in extreme cases, an inability to complete the conformational rearrangements necessary for infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Viral / pharmacology*
  • Binding Sites
  • CD4 Antigens
  • Cell Line
  • Drug Resistance*
  • HIV Envelope Protein gp120
  • HIV Infections / immunology*
  • HIV-1 / chemistry
  • HIV-1 / pathogenicity*
  • Humans
  • N-Acetylglucosaminyltransferases / deficiency
  • Neutralization Tests
  • Polysaccharides / physiology*
  • Virion


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • CD4 Antigens
  • HIV Envelope Protein gp120
  • Polysaccharides
  • N-Acetylglucosaminyltransferases
  • UDP-GlcNAc alpha-D-mannoside beta-1,2-N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase