Cell surface receptors for gammaretroviruses

C. S. Tailor, D. Lavillette, M. Marin, D. Kabat

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Evidence obtained during the last few years has greatly extended our understanding of the cell surface receptors that mediate infections of retroviruses and has provided many surprising insights. In contrast to other cell surface components such as lectins or proteoglycans that influence infections indirectly by enhancing virus adsorption onto specific cells, the true receptors induce conformational changes in the viral envelope glycoproteins that are essential for infection. One surprise is that all of the cell surface receptors for γ-retroviruses are proteins that have multiple transmembrane (TM) sequences, compatible with their identification in known instances as transporters for important solutes. In striking contrast, almost all other animal viruses use receptors that exclusively have single TM sequences, with the sole proven exception we know of being the coreceptors used by lentiviruses. This evidence strongly suggests that virus genera have been prevented because of their previous evolutionary adaptations from switching their specificities between single-TM and multi-TM receptors. This evidence also implies that γ-retroviruses formed by divergent evolution from a common origin millions of years ago and that individual viruses have occasionally jumped between species (zoonoses) while retaining their commitment to using the orthologous receptor of the new host. Another surprise is that many γ-retroviruses use not just one receptor but pairs of closely related receptors as alternatives. This appears to have enhanced viral survival by severely limiting the likelihood of host escape mutations. All of the receptors used by γ-retroviruses contain hypervariable regions that are often heavily glycosylated and that control the viral host range properties, consistent with the idea that these sequences are battlegrounds of virus-host coevolution. However, in contrast to previous assumptions, we propose that γ-retroviruses have become adapted to recognize conserved sites that are important for the receptor's natural function and that the hypervariable sequences have been elaborated by the hosts as defense bulwarks that surround the conserved viral attachment sites. Previously, it was believed that binding to receptors directly triggers a series of conformational changes in the viral envelope glycoproteins that culminate in fusion of the viral and cellular membranes. However, new evidence suggests that γ-retroviral association with receptors triggers an obligatory interaction or cross-talk between envelope glycoproteins on the viral surface. If this intermediate step is prevented, infection fails. Conversely, in several circumstances this cross-talk can be induced in the absence of a cell surface receptor for the virus, in which case infection can proceed efficiently. This new evidence strongly implies that the role of cell surface receptors in infections of γ-retroviruses (and perhaps of other enveloped animal viruses) is more complex and interesting than was previously imagined. Recently, another gammaretroviral receptor with multiple transmembrane sequences was cloned. See Prassolov, Y., Zhang, D., Ivanov, D., Lohler, J., Ross, S.R., and Stocking, C. Sodium-dependent myo-inositol transporter 1 is a receptor for Mus cervicolor M813 murine leukemia virus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-106
Number of pages78
JournalCurrent topics in microbiology and immunology
StatePublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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