Journal of Virology
The interaction between the gp120 and gp41 subunits of the human immunodeficiency virus envelope glycoprotein serves to stabilize the virion form of the complex and to transmit receptor-induced conformational changes in gp120 to trigger the membrane fusion activity of gp41. In this study, we used site-directed mutagenesis to identify amino acid residues in the central ectodomain of gp41 that contribute to the stability of the gp120-gp41 association. We identified alanine mutations at six positions, including four tryptophan residues, which result in mutant envelope glycoprotein complexes that fail to retain gp120 on the cell surface. These envelope glycoproteins readily shed their gp120 and are unable to mediate cell-cell fusion. These findings suggest an important role for the conserved bulky hydrophobic residues in stabilizing the gp120-gp41 complex.