Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2018 02 20() pii 10.1073/pnas.1722627115
The HIV-1 envelope protein (Env) of early-replicating viruses encodes several distinct transmission signatures. One such signature involves a reduced number of potential N-linked glycosylation sites (PNGs). This transmission signature underscores the importance of posttranslational modifications in the fitness of early-replicating isolates. An additional signature in Env involves the overrepresentation of basic amino acid residues at a specific position in the Env signal peptide (SP). In this report, we investigated the potential impact of this SP signature on gp120 glycosylation and antigenicity. Two recombinant gp120s were constructed, one derived from an isolate that lacks this signature and a second from an early-replicating isolate that includes this signature. Chimeric gp120s were also constructed in which the two SPs were swapped between the isolates. All four gp120s were probed with glycan-, structure- and receptor- specific probes in a surface plasmon resonance binding assay. We found that the SP of Env influences qualitative aspects of Env glycosylation that in turn affect the antigenicity of Env in a major way. The SP impacts the affinity of Env for DC-SIGN, a lectin receptor expressed on dendritic cells that is believed to play a role in mucosal transmission. Additionally, affinity for the monoclonal antibodies 17b and A32, which recognize a CD4-induced, open conformation of Env is also altered. These results demonstrate that natural variation in the SP of HIV Env can significantly impact the antigenicity of mature gp120. Thus, the SP is likely subject to antibody-mediated immune pressure.