Scientific reports 2017 04 197(1) 948 doi 10.1038/s41598-017-00935-w
HIV-1 envelope proteins (Envs) play a critical role in HIV infection. In a correct trimeric conformation, Env mediates virus-cell binding and fusion. Malfunctioning of this machinery renders virions incapable of infecting cells. Each HIV-1 virion carries 10-14 Envs, and therefore a defective Env may not necessarily render a HIV virion non-infectious, since other Env on the same virion may still be functional. Alternatively, it is possible that on a given virion either all the spikes are defective or all are functional. Here, we investigate Env conformations on individual virions using our new nanotechnology, "flow virometry", and a panel of antibodies that discriminate between various Env conformations. We found that the majority of HIV-1 virions carry either only trimeric ("functional") or only defective spikes. The relatively small subfraction of virions that carry both functional and nonfunctional Envs contributes little to HIV infection of human lymphoid tissue ex vivo. The observation that the majority of virions exclusively express either functional or nonfunctional forms of Env has important implications for understanding the role of neutralizing and non-neutralizing antibodies in the immune control of HIV infection as well as for the development of effective prophylactic strategies.