eLife 2018 03 217() doi 10.7554/eLife.34271
HIV-1 entry into cells requires binding of the viral envelope glycoprotein (Env) to receptor CD4 and coreceptor. Imaging of individual Env molecules on native virions shows Env trimers to be dynamic, spontaneously transitioning between three distinct well-populated conformational states: a pre-triggered Env (State 1), a default intermediate (State 2) and a three-CD4-bound conformation (State 3), which can be stabilized by binding of CD4 and coreceptor-surrogate antibody 17b. Here, using single-molecule Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (smFRET), we show the default intermediate configuration to be asymmetric, with individual protomers adopting distinct conformations. During entry, this asymmetric intermediate forms when a single CD4 molecule engages the trimer. The trimer can then transition to State 3 by binding additional CD4 molecules and coreceptor.