Biophysical journal 113(9) 1992-2003 pii 10.1016/j.bpj.2017.09.010
The Vpu protein of HIV-1 functions to downregulate cell surface localization of host proteins involved in the innate immune response to viral infection. For several target proteins, including the NTB-A and PVR receptors and the host restriction factor tetherin, this antagonism is carried out via direct interactions between the transmembrane domains (TMDs) of Vpu and the target. The Vpu TMD also modulates homooligomerization of this protein, and the tetherin TMD forms homodimers. The mechanism through which a single transmembrane helix is able to recognize and interact with a wide range of select targets that do not share known interaction motifs is poorly understood. Here we use Förster resonance energy transfer to characterize the energetics of homo- and heterooligomer interactions between the Vpu TMD and several target proteins. Our data show that target TMDs compete for interaction with Vpu, and that formation of each heterooligomer has a similar dissociation constant (Kd) and free energy of association to the Vpu homooligomer. This leads to a model in which Vpu monomers, Vpu homooligomers, and Vpu-target heterooligomers coexist, and suggests that the conserved binding surface of Vpu TMD has been selected for weak binding to multiple targets.