Background: HIV-I R5 viruses cause most of the AIDS cases worldwide and are preferentially transmitted compared to CXCR4-using viruses. Furthermore, R5 viruses vary extensively in capacity to infect macrophages and highly macrophage-tropic variants are frequently identified in the brains of patients with dementia. Here, we investigated the sensitivity of R5 envelopes to a range of inhibitors and antibodies that block HIV entry. We studied a large panel of R5 envelopes, derived by PCR amplification without culture from brain, lymph node, blood and semen. These R5 envelopes conferred a wide range of macrophage tropism and included highly macrophage-tropic variants from brain and non-macrophage-tropic variants from lymph node.
Results: R5 macrophage-tropism correlated with sensitivity to inhibition by reagents that inhibited gp120:CD4 interactions. Thus, increasing macrophage-tropism was associated with increased sensitivity to soluble CD4 and to IgG-CD4 ( PRO 542), but with increased resistance to the anti-CD4 monoclonal antibody ( mab), Q4120. These observations were highly significant and are consistent with an increased affinity of envelope for CD4 for macrophage-tropic envelopes. No overall correlations were noted between R5 macrophage-tropism and sensitivity to CCR5 antagonists or to gp41 specific reagents. Intriguingly, there was a relationship between increasing macrophage-tropism and increased sensitivity to the CD4 binding site mab, b12, but decreased sensitivity to 2G12, a mab that binds a glycan complex on gp120.
Conclusion: Variation in R5 macrophage-tropism is caused by envelope variation that predominantly influences sensitivity to reagents that block gp120: CD4 interactions. Such variation has important implications for therapy using viral entry inhibitors and for the design of envelope antigens for vaccines.