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Most human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) strains isolated from the brain use CCR5 for entry into macrophages and microglia.
Strains that use both CCR5 and CXCR4 for entry (R5X4 strains) have been identified in the brains of some individuals, but mechanisms underlying the persistence of R5X4 viruses compartmentalized between the brain and other tissue reservoirs are unknown.
Here, we characterized changes in the HIV-1 envelope (Env) that enhance the tropism of R5X4 variants for brain or lymphoid tissue.
R5X4 Envs derived from the brains of two individuals had enhanced CCR5 usage in fusion assays compared to R5X4 Envs derived from matched spleen or blood, which was associated with reduced dependence on specific residues in the CCR5 N terminus and extracellular loop 1 (ECL1) and ECL3 regions.
In contrast, spleen/blood-derived Envs had enhanced CXCR4 usage compared to brain-derived Envs, which was associated with reduced dependence on residues in the CXCR4 N terminus and ECL2 region.
Consequently, brain-derived Envs had preferential CCR5 usage for HIV-1 entry into the JC53 cell line, could use either CCR5 or CXCR4 for entry into monocyte-derived macrophages (MDM), and could use CCR5 (albeit inefficiently) for entry into peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC), whereas the entry of spleen-derived Envs was CXCR4 dependent in all three cell types.
Mutagenesis studies of Env amino acid variants influencing coreceptor usage showed that S306 in the gp120 V3 region of brain-derived Envs reduces dependence on the CCR5 N terminus and enhances CCR5 usage for HIV-1 entry into PBMC and MDM, whereas R306 in spleen-derived Envs reduces dependence on the CXCR4 N terminus and confers the CXCR4 restricted phenotype. These results identify mechanisms underlying R5X4 HIV-1 persistence in different tissue reservoirs. Tissue-specific changes in the gp120 V3 region that increase the efficiency of CCR5 or CXCR4 usage, and thereby influence coreceptor preference, may enhance the tropism of R5X4 strains for CCR5-expressing macrophage lineage cells in the brain and CXCR4-expressing T cells in lymphoid tissues, respectively.