The HIV-1 gp120-gp41 complex, which mediates viral fusion and cellular entry, undergoes rapid evolution within its external glycan shield to enable escape from neutralizing antibody (NAb). Understanding how conserved protein determinants retain functionality in the context of such evolution is important for their evaluation and exploitation as potential drug and/or vaccine targets. In this study, we examined how the conserved gp120-gp41 association site, formed by the N- and C-terminal segments of gp120 and the disulfide-bonded region (DSR) of gp41, adapts to glycan changes that are linked to neutralization sensitivity. To this end, a DSR mutant virus (K601D) with defective gp120-association was sequentially passaged in peripheral blood mononuclear cells to select suppressor mutations. We reasoned that the locations of suppressors point to structural elements that are functionally linked to the gp120-gp41 association site. In culture 1, gp120 association and viral replication was restored by loss of the conserved glycan at Asn 136 in V1 (T138N mutation) in conjunction with the L494I substitution in C5 within the association site. In culture 2, replication was restored with deletion of the N 139INN sequence, which ablates the overlapping Asn 141-Asn 142-Ser-Ser potential N-linked glycosylation sequons in V1, in conjunction with D601N in the DSR. The 136 and 142 glycan mutations appeared to exert their suppressive effects by altering the dependence of gp120-gp41 interactions on the DSR residues, Leu 593, Trp 596 and Lys 601. The 136 and/or 142 glycan mutations increased the sensitivity of HIV-1 pseudovirions to the glycan-dependent NAbs 2G12 and PG16, and also pooled IgG obtained from HIV-1-infected individuals. Thus adjacent V1 glycans allosterically modulate the distal gp120-gp41 association site. We propose that this represents a mechanism for functional adaptation of the gp120-gp41 association site to an evolving glycan shield in a setting of NAb selection.
The envelope glycoprotein gp120-gp41 complex of HIV-1 mediates receptor attachment and virus-cell membrane fusion, leading to cellular entry. A shield of asparagine-linked oligosaccharides occludes the gp120-gp41 protein surface and evolution of this glycan shield provides a means for evading circulating neutralizing antibody. Here we examined how conserved structural elements of the glycoprotein complex, in particular the gp120-gp41 association site, retain functionality in the context of glycan shield evolution. This information is important for the evaluation and exploitation of such conserved functional determinants as potential drug and/or vaccine targets. Our data indicate that the loss of either of 2 adjacent glycans in variable region 1 of gp120 leads to changes in local and remote glycan-dependent epitopes and that this is linked to a remodelling of gp120-gp41 interactions in order to maintain a functional gp120-gp41 complex. We propose that this represents a mechanism for the functional adaptation of the gp120-gp41 association site to an evolving glycan shield in a setting of neutralizing antibody selection.