The Vpu protein of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) has been reported to enhance virion release from infected cells and to down-regulate the expression of CD4 on infected cells. Previous studies have shown that Vpu and the envelope glycoprotein precursor (gp160) are translated from different reading frames of the same bicistronic messenger RNA (mRNA). In order to assess the effect of the Vpu sequences 5′ to the Env open reading frame on Env biosynthesis and pathogenesis, we have constructed a deletion mutant of a molecularly cloned chimeric simian-human immunodeficiency virus (SHIVKU-1bMC33) in which the entire coding region of vpu upstream of env had been deleted (novpuSHIVKU-1bMC33). While both SHIVKU-1bMC33 and novpuSHIVKU-1bMC33 synthesized comparable amounts of env mRNA in infected cells, the novpuSHIVKU-1bMC33-infected cells synthesized more Env precursor when standardized against the p57 Gag precursor protein. While more Env was synthesized than Gag in novpuSHIVKU-1bMC33-infected cells, pulse-chase analysis revealed that p27 Gag protein was released from infected cells with delayed kinetics, a reflection of the lack of a Vpu protein. Inoculation of novpuSHIVKU-1bMC33 into two pig-tailed macaques resulted in no loss of circulating CD4+ T cells. However, replicating virus could be detected in the lymphoid tissues (lymph nodes, spleen, thymus) 1 year after inoculation and the thymus of one of the macaques exhibited severe atrophy. The results of these studies indicate that the Vpu coding sequences upstream of Env may attenuate the level of Env precursor biosynthesis but significantly contribute to the pathogenesis of this SHIV in pig-tailed macaques.
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