• Identification of amino acid residues critical for the B cell growth-promoting activity of HIV-1 matrix protein p17 variants

      He, W.; Mazzuca, P.; Yuan, W. (Elsevier B.V., 2019)
      Background: HIV-1 matrix protein p17 variants (vp17s) detected in HIV-1-infected patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (HIV-NHL) display, differently from the wild-type protein (refp17), B cell growth-promoting activity. Biophysical analysis revealed that vp17s are destabilized as compared to refp17, motivating us to explore structure-function relationships. Methods: We used: biophysical techniques (circular dichroism (CD), nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and thermal/GuHCL denaturation) to study protein conformation and stability; Surface plasmon resonance (SPR) to study interactions; Western blot to investigate signaling pathways; and Colony Formation and Soft Agar assays to study B cell proliferation and clonogenicity. Results: By forcing the formation of a disulfide bridge between Cys residues at positions 57 and 87 we obtained a destabilized p17 capable of promoting B cell proliferation. This finding prompted us to dissect refp17 to identify the functional epitope. A synthetic peptide (F1) spanning from amino acid (aa) 2 to 21 was found to activate Akt and promote B cell proliferation and clonogenicity. Three positively charged aa (Arg15, Lys18 and Arg20) proved critical for sustaining the proliferative activity of both F1 and HIV-NHL-derived vp17s. Lack of any interaction of F1 with the known refp17 receptors suggests an alternate one involved in cell proliferation. Conclusions: The molecular reasons for the proliferative activity of vp17s, compared to refp17, relies on the exposure of a functional epitope capable of activating Akt. General significance: Our findings pave the way for identifying the receptor(s) responsible for B cell proliferation and offer new opportunities to identify novel treatment strategies in combating HIV-related NHL. © 2018 The Author(s)