Due to their high mutation rates, RNA viruses and retroviruses replicate close to the threshold of viability. Their existence as quasi-species has pioneered the concept of lethal mutagenesis that prompted us to synthesize pyrimidine nucleoside analogues with antiviral activity in cell culture consistent with an accumulation of deleterious mutations in the HIV-1 genome. However, testing all potentially mutagenic compounds in cell-based assays is tedious and costly. Here, we describe two simple in vitro biophysical/biochemical assays that allow prediction of the mutagenic potential of deoxyribonucleoside analogues. The first assay compares the thermal stabilities of matched and mismatched base-pairs in DNA duplexes containing or not the nucleoside analogues: a promising candidate should display a small destabilisation of the matched base-pair compared to the natural nucleoside and the smallest gap possible between the stabilities of the matched and mismatched base-pairs. From this assay, we predicted that two of our compounds, 5-hydroxymethyl-2'-deoxyuridine and 5-hydroxymethyl-2'-deoxycytidine should be mutagenic. The second in vitro reverse transcription assay assesses DNA synthesis opposite nucleoside analogues inserted into a template strand and subsequent extension of the newly synthesised base pairs. Once again, only 5-hydroxymethyl-2'-deoxyuridine and 5-hydroxymethyl-2'-deoxycytidine are predicted to be efficient mutagens. The predictive potential of our fast and easy first line screens was confirmed by detailed analysis of the mutation spectrum induced by the compounds in cell culture since only compounds 5-hydroxymethyl-2'-deoxyuridine and 5-hydroxymethyl-2'-deoxycytidine were found to increase the mutation frequency, by 3.1 and 3.4 fold, respectively.
During assembly of HIV-1 particles in infected cells, the viral Pr55(Gag) protein (or Gag precursor) must select the viral genomic RNA (gRNA) from a variety of cellular and viral spliced RNAs. However, there is no consensus on how Pr55(Gag) achieves this selection. Here, by using RNA binding and footprinting assays, we demonstrate that the primary Pr55(Gag) binding site on the gRNA consists of the internal loop and the lower part of stem-loop 1 (SL1), the upper part of which initiates gRNA dimerization. A double regulation ensures specific binding of Pr55(Gag) to the gRNA despite the fact that SL1 is also present in spliced viral RNAs. The region upstream of SL1, which is present in all HIV-1 RNAs, prevents binding to SL1, but this negative effect is counteracted by sequences downstream of SL4, which are unique to the gRNA.
HIV undergoes high rates of mutation and recombination during reverse transcription, but it is not known whether these events occur independently or are linked mechanistically. Here we used a system of silent marker mutations in HIV and a single round of infection in primary T lymphocytes combined with a high-throughput sequencing and mathematical modeling approach to directly estimate the viral recombination and mutation rates. From >7 million nucleotides (nt) of sequences from HIV infection, we observed 4,801 recombination events and 859 substitution mutations (?1.51 and 0.12 events per 1,000 nt, respectively). We used experimental controls to account for PCR-induced and transfection-induced recombination and sequencing error. We found that the single-cycle virus-induced mutation rate is 4.6 × 10(-5) mutations per nt after correction. By sorting of our data into recombined and nonrecombined sequences, we found a significantly higher mutation rate in recombined regions (P = 0.003 by Fisher's exact test). We used a permutation approach to eliminate a number of potential confounding factors and confirm that mutation occurs around the site of recombination and is not simply colocated in the genome. By comparing mutation rates in recombined and nonrecombined regions, we found that recombination-associated mutations account for 15 to 20% of all mutations occurring during reverse transcription.
HIV-1 infection is characterised by the rapid generation of genetic diversity that facilitates viral escape from immune selection and antiretroviral therapy. Despite recombinations crucial role in viral diversity and evolution, little is known about the genomic factors that influence recombination between highly similar genomes. In this study, we use a minimally modified full length HIV-1 genome and high throughput sequence analysis to study recombination in gag and pol in T cells. We find that recombination is favoured at a number of recombination hotspots, where recombination occurs six times more frequently than at corresponding coldspots. Interestingly, these hotspots occur near important features of the HIV-1 genome, but do not occur at sites immediately around protease inhibitor or reverse transcriptase inhibitor drug resistance mutations. We show that the recombination hot and cold spots are consistent across five blood donors and are independent of co-receptor mediated entry. Finally, we check common experimental confounders and find that these are not driving the location of recombination hotspots. This is the first study to identify the location of recombination hotspots, between two similar viral genomes with great statistical power and under conditions that closely reflect natural recombination events amongst HIV-1 quasispecies.
Early studies of HIV infection dynamics suggested that virus-producing HIV-infected cells had an average half-life of approximately 1 day. However, whether this average behavior is reflective of the dynamics of individual infected cells is unclear. Here, we use HIV-enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) constructs and flow cytometry sorting to explore the dynamics of cell infection, viral protein production, and cell death in vitro. By following the numbers of productively infected cells expressing EGFP over time, we show that infected cell death slows down over time. Although infected cell death in vivo could be very different, our results suggest that the constant decay of cell numbers observed in vivo during antiretroviral treatment could reflect a balance of cell death and delayed viral protein production. We observe no correlation between viral protein production and death rate of productively infected cells, showing that viral protein production is not likely to be the sole determinant of the death of HIV-infected cells. Finally, we show that all observed features can be reproduced by a simple model in which infected cells have broad distributions of productive life spans, times to start viral protein production, and viral protein production rates. This broad spectrum of the level and timing of viral protein production provides new insights into the behavior and characteristics of HIV-infected cells.
Influenza A viruses cause annual influenza epidemics and occasional severe pandemics. Their genome is segmented into eight fragments, which offers evolutionary advantages but complicates genomic packaging. The existence of a selective packaging mechanism, in which one copy of each viral RNA is specifically packaged into each virion, is suspected, but its molecular details remain unknown. Here, we identified a direct intermolecular interaction between two viral genomic RNA segments of an avian influenza A virus using in vitro experiments. Using silent trans-complementary mutants, we then demonstrated that this interaction takes place in infected cells and is required for optimal viral replication. Disruption of this interaction did not affect the HA titer of the mutant viruses, suggesting that the same amount of viral particles was produced. However, it nonspecifically decreased the amount of viral RNA in the viral particles, resulting in an eightfold increase in empty viral particles. Competition experiments indicated that this interaction favored copackaging of the interacting viral RNA segments. The interaction we identified involves regions not previously designated as packaging signals and is not widely conserved among influenza A virus. Combined with previous studies, our experiments indicate that viral RNA segments can promote the selective packaging of the influenza A virus genome by forming a sequence-dependent supramolecular network of interactions. The lack of conservation of these interactions might limit genetic reassortment between divergent influenza A viruses.
The capacity of CD8+ T cells to inhibit HIV-1 replication in vitro strongly correlates with virus control in vivo. Post-hoc evaluations of HIV-1 vaccine candidates suggest that this immunological parameter is a promising benchmark of vaccine efficacy. Large-scale analysis of CD8+ T cell antiviral activity requires a rapid, robust and economical assay for accurate quantification of HIV-1 infection in primary CD4+ T cells. Detection of intracellular HIV-1 p24 antigen (p24 Ag) by flow cytometry is one such method but it is thought to be less sensitive and quantitative than p24 Ag ELISA. We report that fixation and permeabilisation of HIV-infected cells using paraformaldehyde/50% methanol/Nonidet P-40 instead of a conventional paraformaldehyde/saponin-based protocol improved their detection across multiplicities of infection (MOI) ranging from 10(-2) to 8×10(-5), and by nearly two-fold (p<0.001) at the optimal MOI tested (10(-2)). The frequency of infected cells was strongly correlated with p24 Ag release during culture, thus validating its use as a measure of productive infection. We were also able to quantify infection with a panel of HIV-1 isolates representing the major clades. The protocol described here is rapid and cost-effective compared with ELISA and thus could be a useful component of immune monitoring of HIV-1 vaccines and interventions to reduce viral reservoirs.
The occurrence of resistant viruses to any of the anti-HIV-1 compounds used in the current therapies against AIDS underlies the urge for the development of new drug targets and/or new drugs acting through novel mechanisms. While all anti-HIV-1 nucleoside analogues in clinical use and in clinical trials rely on ribose modifications for activity, we designed nucleosides with a natural deoxyribose moiety and modifications of position 8 of the adenine base. Such modifications might induce a steric clash with helix ?H in the thumb domain of the p66 subunit of HIV-1 RT at a distance from the catalytic site, causing delayed chain termination. Eleven new 2-deoxyadenosine analogues modified on position 8 of the purine base were synthesized and tested in vitro and in cell-based assays. In this paper we demonstrate for the first time that chemical modifications on position 8 of 2-deoxyadenosine induce delayed chain termination in vitro, and also inhibit DNA synthesis when incorporated in a DNA template strand. Furthermore, one of them had moderate anti-HIV-1 activity in cell-culture. Our results constitute a proof of concept indicating that modification on the base moiety of nucleosides can induce delayed polymerization arrest and inhibit HIV-1 replication.
Intracellular signaling events are signposts of biological processes, which govern the direction and action of biological activities. Through millions of years of evolution, pathogens, such as viruses, have evolved to hijack host cell machinery to infect their targets and are therefore dependent on host cell signaling for replication. This review will detail our current understanding of the signaling events that are important for the early steps of HIV-1 replication. More specifically, the therapeutic potential of signaling events associated with chemokine coreceptors, virus entry, viral synapses, and post-entry processes will be discussed. We argue that these pathways may represent novel targets for antiviral therapy.
Due to its small size and versatility, the biarsenical-tetracysteine system is an attractive way to label viral proteins for live cell imaging. This study describes the genetic labeling of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) structural proteins (matrix, capsid and nucleocapsid), enzymes (protease, reverse transcriptase, RNAse H and integrase) and envelope glycoprotein 120 with a tetracysteine tag in the context of a full-length virus. We measure the impact of these modifications on the natural virus infection and, most importantly, present the first infectious HIV-1 construct containing a fluorescently-labeled nucleocapsid protein. Furthermore, due to the high background levels normally associated with the labeling of tetracysteine-tagged proteins we have also optimized a metabolic labeling system that produces infectious virus containing the natural envelope glycoproteins and specifically labeled tetracysteine-tagged proteins that can easily be detected after virus infection of T-lymphocytes. This approach can be adapted to other viral systems for the visualization of the interplay between virus and host cell during infection.
Retroviral recombination is thought to play an important role in the generation of immune escape and multiple drug resistance by shuffling pre-existing mutations in the viral population. Current estimates of HIV-1 recombination rates are derived from measurements within reporter gene sequences or genetically divergent HIV sequences. These measurements do not mimic the recombination occurring in vivo, between closely related genomes. Additionally, the methods used to measure recombination make a variety of assumptions about the underlying process, and often fail to account adequately for issues such as co-infection of cells or the possibility of multiple template switches between recombination sites. We have developed a HIV-1 marker system by making a small number of codon modifications in gag which allow recombination to be measured over various lengths between closely related viral genomes. We have developed statistical tools to measure recombination rates that can compensate for the possibility of multiple template switches. Our results show that when multiple template switches are ignored the error is substantial, particularly when recombination rates are high, or the genomic distance is large. We demonstrate that this system is applicable to other studies to accurately measure the recombination rate and show that recombination does not occur randomly within the HIV genome.
The bias of A-rich codons in HIV-1 pol is thought to be a record of hypermutations in viral genomes that lack biological functions. Bioinformatic analysis predicted that A-rich sequences are generally associated with minimal local RNA structures. Using codon modifications to reduce the amount of A-rich sequences within HIV-1 genomes, we have reduced the flexibility of RNA sequences in pol to analyze the functional significance of these A-rich structurally poor RNA elements in HIV-1 pol. Our data showed that codon modification of HIV-1 sequences led to a suppression of virus infectivity by 5-100-fold, and this defect does not correlate with, viral entry, viral protein expression levels, viral protein profiles or virion packaging of genomic RNA. Codon modification of HIV-1 pol correlated with an enhanced dimer stability of the viral RNA genome, which was associated with a reduction of viral cDNA synthesis both during HIV-1 infection and in a cell free reverse transcription assay. Our data provided direct evidence that the HIV-1 A-rich pol sequence is not merely an evolutionary artifact of enzyme-induced hypermutations, and that HIV-1 has adapted to rely on A-rich RNA sequences to support the synthesis of viral cDNA during reverse transcription, highlighting the utility of using structurally poor RNA domains in regulating biological process.
One of the hallmarks of HIV infection is the rapid development of a genetically complex population (quasispecies) from an initially limited number of infectious particles. Genetic diversity remains one of the major obstacles to eradication of HIV. The viral quasispecies can respond rapidly to selective pressures, such as that imposed by the immune system and antiretroviral therapy, and frustrates vaccine design efforts. Two unique features of retroviral replication are responsible for the unprecedented variation generated during infection. First, mutations are frequently introduced into the viral genome by the error prone viral reverse transcriptase and through the actions of host cellular factors, such as the APOBEC family of nucleic acid editing enzymes. Second, the HIV reverse transcriptase can utilize both copies of the co-packaged viral genome in a process termed retroviral recombination. When the co-packaged viral genomes are genetically different, retroviral recombination can lead to the shuffling of mutations between viral genomes in the quasispecies. This review outlines the stages of the retroviral life cycle where genetic variation is introduced, focusing on the principal mechanisms of mutation and recombination. Understanding the mechanistic origin of genetic diversity is essential to combating HIV.
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