As part of the Pr55Gag
polyprotein, p6 fulfills an essential role in the late steps of the replication cycle. However, almost nothing is known about the functions of the mature HIV-1 p6 protein. Recently, we showed that p6 is a bona fide substrate of the insulin-degrading enzyme (IDE), a ubiquitously expressed zinc metalloprotease. This phenomenon appears to be specific for HIV-1, since p6 homologs of HIV-2, SIV and EIAV were IDE-insensitive. Furthermore, abrogation of the IDE-mediated degradation of p6 reduces the replication capacity of HIV-1 in an Env-dependent manner. However, it remained unclear to which extent the IDE mediated degradation is phylogenetically conserved among HIV-1. Here, we describe two HIV-1 isolates with IDE resistant p6 proteins. Sequence comparison allowed deducing one single amino acid regulating IDE sensitivity of p6. Exchanging the N-terminal leucine residue of p6 derived from the IDE sensitive isolate HIV-1NL4-3
with proline enhances its stability, while replacing Pro-1 of p6 from the IDE insensitive isolate SG3 with leucine restores susceptibility towards IDE. Phylogenetic analyses of this natural polymorphism revealed that the N-terminal leucine is characteristic for p6 derived from HIV-1 group M except for subtype A, which predominantly expresses p6 with an N-terminal proline. Consequently, p6 peptides derived from subtype A are not degraded by IDE. Thus, IDE mediated degradation of p6 is specific for HIV-1 group M isolates and not occasionally distributed among HIV-1.
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