The Journal of biological chemistry

PTAP motif duplication in the p6 Gag protein confers a replication advantage on HIV-1 subtype C.

PMID 29773649


HIV-1 subtype C (HIV-1C) may duplicate longer amino acid stretches in the p6 Gag protein, leading to the creation of an additional Pro-Thr/Ser-Ala-Pro (PTAP) motif necessary for viral packaging. However, the biological significance of a duplication of the PTAP motif for HIV-1 replication and pathogenesis has not been experimentally validated. In a longitudinal study of two different clinical cohorts of select HIV-1 seropositive, drug-naive individuals from India, we found that 8 of 50 of these individuals harbored a mixed infection of viral strains discordant for the PTAP duplication. Conventional and next-generation sequencing of six primary viral quasispecies at multiple time points disclosed that in a mixed infection, the viral strains containing the PTAP duplication dominated the infection. The dominance of the double-PTAP viral strains over a genetically similar single-PTAP viral clone was confirmed in viral proliferation and pairwise competition assays. Of note, in the proximity ligation assay, double-PTAP Gag proteins exhibited a significantly enhanced interaction with the host protein tumor susceptibility gene 101 (Tsg101). Moreover, Tsg101 overexpression resulted in a biphasic effect on HIV-1C proliferation, an enhanced effect at low concentration and an inhibitory effect only at higher concentrations, unlike a uniformly inhibitory effect on subtype B strains. In summary, our results indicate that the duplication of the PTAP motif in the p6 Gag protein enhances the replication fitness of HIV-1C by engaging the Tsg101 host protein with a higher affinity. Our results have implications for HIV-1 pathogenesis, especially of HIV-1C.