HIV-1 is typically CCR5 using (R5) and T cell tropic (T-tropic), targeting memory CD4(+) T cells throughout acute and chronic infections. However, viruses can expand into alternative cells types. Macrophage-tropic (M-tropic) HIV-1 variants have evolved to infect macrophages, which have only low levels of surface CD4. Most M-tropic variants have been isolated from the central nervous system during late-stage chronic infection. We used the HIV-1 env genes of well-defined, subject-matched M-tropic and T-tropic viruses to characterize the phenotypic features of the M-tropic Env protein. We found that, compared to T-tropic viruses, M-tropic viruses infect monocyte-derived macrophages (MDMs) on average 28-fold more efficiently, use low-density CD4 more efficiently, have increased sensitivity to soluble CD4 (sCD4), and show trends toward sensitivity to some CD4 binding site antibodies but no difference in sensitivity to antibodies targeting the CD4-bound conformation. M-tropic viruses also displayed a trend toward resistance to neutralization by monoclonal antibodies targeting the V1/V2 region of Env, suggesting subtle changes in Env protein conformation. The paired M- and T-tropic viruses did not differ in autologous serum neutralization, temperature sensitivity, entry kinetics, intrinsic infectivity, or Env protein incorporation. We also examined viruses with modestly increased CD4 usage. These variants have significant sensitivity to sCD4 and may represent evolutionary intermediates. CD4 usage is strongly correlated with infectivity of MDMs over a wide range of CD4 entry phenotypes. These data suggest that emergence of M-tropic HIV-1 includes multiple steps in which a phenotype of increased sensitivity to sCD4 and enhanced CD4 usage accompany subtle changes in Env conformation.
Importance: HIV-1 typically replicates in CD4(+) T cells. However, HIV-1 can evolve to infect macrophages, especially within the brain. Understanding how CCR5-using macrophage-tropic viruses evolve and differ from CCR5-using T cell-tropic viruses may provide insights into viral evolution and pathogenesis within the central nervous system. We characterized the HIV-1 env viral entry gene from subject-matched macrophage-tropic and T cell-tropic viruses to identify entry features of macrophage-tropic viruses. We observed several differences between T cell-tropic and macrophage-tropic Env proteins, including functional differences with host CD4 receptor engagement and possible changes in the CD4 binding site and V1/V2 region. We also identified viruses with phenotypes between that of "true" macrophage-tropic and T cell-tropic viruses, which may represent evolutionary intermediates in a multistep process to macrophage tropism.
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