Properties of HIV envelope expressed in the presence of SPC3, an Env-derived peptide drug under phase II clinical trials

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A multibranched peptide construct (SPC3) derived from the conserved sequence of the third variable domain (V3) of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) envelope (Env) inhibits HIV infectivity. It is being tested in phase II clinical trials (FDA protocol 257A). Because some Env-derived peptides inhibit HIV infectivity through alteration of Env biosynthetic pathway, we studied whether SPC3 displays its activity through interference with Env biosynthesis or with its functions at the membrane. Syncytium formation was impaired when human CD4+ cells expressed recombinant HIV Env in the presence of SPC3. This inhibition was not due to an effect of SPC3 on the amount of Env expressed at the cell membrane. As assessed using antibodies, the conformation of the receptor binding site and of V3 presented on membrane Env was not affected by the presence of SPC3 during biosynthesis. Finally, despite the ability of SPC3 to bind to CD4+ cell membrane, SPC3 did not interfere with Env binding to CD4. These data suggest that SPC3 interferes with the infection process at a post-CD4 binding step, and not with the folding of Env.

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