Experimental Estimation of the Effects of All Amino-Acid Mutations to HIV's Envelope Protein on Viral Replication in Cell Culture

PLoS Pathog. 2016 Dec 13;12(12):e1006114. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1006114. eCollection 2016 Dec.


HIV is notorious for its capacity to evade immunity and anti-viral drugs through rapid sequence evolution. Knowledge of the functional effects of mutations to HIV is critical for understanding this evolution. HIV's most rapidly evolving protein is its envelope (Env). Here we use deep mutational scanning to experimentally estimate the effects of all amino-acid mutations to Env on viral replication in cell culture. Most mutations are under purifying selection in our experiments, although a few sites experience strong selection for mutations that enhance HIV's replication in cell culture. We compare our experimental measurements of each site's preference for each amino acid to the actual frequencies of these amino acids in naturally occurring HIV sequences. Our measured amino-acid preferences correlate with amino-acid frequencies in natural sequences for most sites. However, our measured preferences are less concordant with natural amino-acid frequencies at surface-exposed sites that are subject to pressures absent from our experiments such as antibody selection. Our data enable us to quantify the inherent mutational tolerance of each site in Env. We show that the epitopes of broadly neutralizing antibodies have a significantly reduced inherent capacity to tolerate mutations, rigorously validating a pervasive idea in the field. Overall, our results help disentangle the role of inherent functional constraints and external selection pressures in shaping Env's evolution.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing / immunology
  • Antibodies, Viral / immunology
  • HEK293 Cells
  • HIV-1 / genetics*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing / methods
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Virus Replication / genetics*
  • env Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus / genetics*


  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • Antibodies, Viral
  • env Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus