Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program


Program in Molecular Medicine

First Thesis Advisor

Paul R. Clapham, Ph.D.


HIV-1, HIV Infections, Tropism, Viral Envelope Proteins, Macrophages, Human Immunodeficiency Virus Proteins, Viral Regulatory and Accessory Proteins, Virus Replication


The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is able to infect CD4+ T cells as well as macrophages. Macrophage-tropism has been linked to determinants in the envelope of HIV. These determinants allow envelopes to exploit low levels of CD4 for infection. Macrophages are an important reservoir of virus, especially during chronic infection, and are likely responsible for the bulk of virus produced after CD4+T cells have declined. Viral factors that may impact the ability to infect macrophages are worth studying because this cell type is so important in infection.

It was previously reported that the macrophage-tropic primary isolate AD8 was vpu-independent. The molecular clone YU-2, derived from brain tissue without culture, was also reported to be macrophage-tropic despite having a mutation in the vpu start codon. It was therefore possible that vpu-independent envelopes could evolve in vivo. To examine this possibility, I constructed chimeras containing wild type or defective vpu start codons, and gp160 sequences from AD8, YU-2 or SF162 (a vpu-dependent control). I also used full length AD8 and YU-2 with wild type or defective vpu start codons. I infected macrophages with equal amounts of virus, and measured viral output over two weeks. Viruses with defective vpu start codons were released to lower levels compared to their wild type vpucounterparts. In contrast to previous reports, the AD8 envelope is not vpu-independent for replication in macrophages. The YU-2 envelope is also not vpu-independent.

Macrophage-tropic envelopes from late stages of infection can be sensitive to antibodies that bind the CD4 binding site on gp120, implying that macrophage-tropic envelopes have more exposed CD4 binding sites. Neutralizing antibodies may act as modulators of macrophage-tropism over the course of infection. Using chimeras containing gp120 sequences derived from the PBMC of four HIV+patients, I examined the capacity for envelopes to infect macrophages. Three patients (MM1, 4, and 8) had macrophage-tropic envelopes before and after developing autologous neutralizing antibodies. Three patients (MM1, 4, and 23) developed heterologous antibodies against IIIB, an easily neutralized T-cell line adapted strain of HIV-1. This data indicates that macrophage-tropism in these patients is not modulated by the presence of neutralizing antibodies.

The macrophage-tropism of envelopes tends to segregate depending on the tissue origin of the virus. Envelopes from two separate tissues from the same patient exhibit very different infectivity characteristics. The B33 envelope, from brain tissue, is very infectious and is macrophage-tropic, while the LN40 envelope, from lymph node tissue, is weakly infectious and is not macrophage-tropic. Replacing the entire gp41 of LN40 with that of B33 restores some infectivity to LN40. The cytoplasmic domain of gp41 contains many motifs important for assembly and infectivity. To examine which motifs are responsible for the weak infectivity of LN40, I made chimeras of gp41, as well as point mutations in gp41. The LN40 chimera containing the entire gp41 of B33 restored the most infectivity. Point mutations in the palmitoylation site, Pr55gagbinding region, and dileucine motif at the C-terminus also restored infectivity when combined. Determinants in the gp41 cytoplasmic domain are responsible for the weak infectivity of LN40; however, it is possible that there are contributing determinants in gp120, such as the ability to use low levels of CD4.

Here, I examined how changes in the vpu and env genes of HIV-1 can impact infectivity, especially infectivity of macrophages. Changes that adversely impact the virus’ ability to infect macrophages may also impact the overall course of disease. However, the data here show that retaining the ability to infect, and replicate in, macrophages give HIV an advantage. I speculate that retaining the ability to infect macrophages gives the virus a reservoir for later in disease, when CD4+ T cells have been depleted, as well as way of avoiding neutralizing antibodies. This work further defines the importance of macrophages in HIV-1 infectivity and disease.



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