The trimeric HIV-1 envelope (Env) glycoproteins gp120 and gp41 mediate virus entry into target cells by engaging CD4 and the coreceptors CCR5 or CXCR4 at the cell surface and driving membrane fusion. Receptor/gp120 interactions regulate the virus life cycle, HIV infection transmission and pathogenesis. Env is also the target of neutralizing antibodies. Efforts have thus been made to produce soluble HIV-1 glycoproteins to develop vaccines and study the role and mechanisms of HIV/receptor interactions. However, production and purification of Env glycoproteins and their functional assessment has to cope with multiple obstacles. These include difficulties in amplifying and cloning env sequences and setting up receptor binding assays that are suitable for studies on large collections of glycoproteins, flexible enough to adapt to Env and receptor structural heterogeneities, and allow recapitulating the receptor binding properties of virion-associated Env trimers. Here we identify these difficulties and present protocols to produce primary gp120 and determination of their binding properties to receptors. The receptor binding assays confirmed that the produced glycoproteins are competent for binding CD4 and undergo proper CD4-induced conformational changes required for interaction with CCR5. These assays may help elucidate the role of gp120/receptor interactions in the pathophysiology of HIV infection and develop HIV-1 entry inhibitors.
Keywords: AIDS; Cloning; Gene toxicity; HIV-1 gp120; Protein expression and purification; Receptor binding assays.
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