HIV-1 R5 variants exploit CCR5 as a coreceptor to infect both T cells and macrophages. R5 viruses that are transmitted or derived from immune tissue and peripheral blood are mainly inefficient at mediating infection of macrophages. In contrast, highly macrophage-tropic (mac-tropic) R5 viruses predominate in brain tissue and can be detected in cerebrospinal fluid but are infrequent in immune tissue or blood even in late disease. These mac-tropic R5 variants carry envelope glycoproteins (Envs) adapted to exploit low levels of CD4 on macrophages to induce infection. However, it is unclear whether this adaptation is conferred by an increased affinity of the Env trimer for CD4 or is mediated by postbinding structural rearrangements in the trimer that enhance the exposure of the coreceptor binding site and facilitate events leading to fusion and virus entry. In this study, we investigated CD4 binding to mac-tropic and non-mac-tropic Env trimers and showed that CD4-IgG binds efficiently to mac-tropic R5 Env trimers, while binding to non-mac-tropic trimers was undetectable. Our data indicated that the CD4 binding site (CD4bs) is highly occluded on Env trimers of non-mac-tropic R5 viruses. Such viruses may therefore infect T cells via viral synapses where Env and CD4 become highly concentrated. This environment will enable high-avidity interactions that overcome extremely low Env-CD4 affinities.IMPORTANCE HIV R5 variants bind to CD4 and CCR5 receptors on T cells and macrophages to initiate infection. Transmitted HIV variants infect T cells but not macrophages, and these viral strains persist in immune tissue even in late disease. Here we show that the binding site for CD4 present on HIV's envelope protein is occluded on viruses replicating in immune tissue. This occlusion likely prevents antibody binding to this site and neutralization of the virus, but it makes it difficult for virus-CD4 interactions to occur. Such viruses probably pass from T cell to T cell via cell contacts where CD4 is highly concentrated and allows infection via inefficient envelope-CD4 binding. Our data are highly relevant for vaccines that aim to induce antibodies targeting the CD4 binding site on the envelope protein.
Keywords: CCR5; CD4; CD4bs; HIV; envelope glycoprotein; macrophage tropism.
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