Crystal structure of an FIV/HIV chimeric protease complexed with the broad-based inhibitor, TL-3
© Heaslet et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2007
Received: 14 September 2006
Accepted: 09 January 2007
Published: 09 January 2007
We have obtained the 1.7 Å crystal structure of FIV protease (PR) in which 12 critical residues around the active site have been substituted with the structurally equivalent residues of HIV PR (12X FIV PR). The chimeric PR was crystallized in complex with the broad-based inhibitor TL-3, which inhibits wild type FIV and HIV PRs, as well as 12X FIV PR and several drug-resistant HIV mutants [1–4]. Biochemical analyses have demonstrated that TL-3 inhibits these PRs in the order HIV PR > 12X FIV PR > FIV PR, with Ki values of 1.5 nM, 10 nM, and 41 nM, respectively [2–4]. Comparison of the crystal structures of the TL-3 complexes of 12X FIV and wild-typeFIV PR revealed theformation of additinal van der Waals interactions between the enzyme inhibitor in the mutant PR. The 12X FIV PR retained the hydrogen bonding interactions between residues in the flap regions and active site involving the enzyme and the TL-3 inhibitor in comparison to both FIV PR and HIV PR. However, the flap regions of the 12X FIV PR more closely resemble those of HIV PR, having gained several stabilizing intra-flap interactions not present in wild type FIV PR. These findings offer a structural explanation for the observed inhibitor/substrate binding properties of the chimeric PR.
Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), a member of the lentivirus family, is a useful model for developing intervention strategies against lentiviral infection [5–7]. We aim to better understand the molecular basis of HIV-1 and FIV protease (PR) substrate and inhibitor specificities in order to develop broad-spectrum protease inhibitors that will inhibit both wild type and drug-resistant proteases. This approach has led to the development of TL-3, an inhibitor that is capable of inhibiting FIV, SIV, HIV-1 and several HIV-1 drug-resistant strains ex vivo [1–3], and other potential inhibitors with broad efficacy [8–10]. FIV PR, like HIV-1 PR, is a homodimer, but each monomer is comprised of 116 amino acids, as opposed to 99 amino acids for HIV-1 PR. The structure of FIV PR has been determined and compared to that of HIV-1 PR [11–13]. FIV PR, particularly in the active core region, is very similar to HIV-1 PR but only shares 27 identical amino acids (23% identical at amino acid level) and exhibits distinct substrate and inhibitor specificity [11, 14–17]. FIV and HIV-1 PR each prefer their own matrix-capsid (MA-CA) junction substrate and FIV PR prefers a longer substrate than HIV-1 PR. Current clinical drugs against HIV-1 PR are poor inhibitors for FIV PR, primarily due to a smaller S3 substrate binding site in FIV PR which restricts binding of these drugs [2, 3].
FIV PR is responsible for processing the FIV Gag and Gag-Pol polyproteins into 10 individual functional proteins. Although the overall order of proteins in the Gag-Pol polyprotein in FIV and HIV-1 is similar, distinctions are also evident. HIV-1 Gag-Pol has an additional small spacer protein, p1, between nucleocapsid (NC) and p6 while the equivalent region in FIV is a single p2 peptide. In addition, HIV-1 lacks dUTPase (DU), which is encoded between reverse transcriptase (RT) and integrase (IN) within the Pol polyprotein in FIV. FIV PR, similar to HIV-1 PR, regulates its own activity through autoproteolysis at 4 cleavage sites in PR .
In both HIV-1 and FIV, the sequence of Gag and Gag-Pol precursor processing is highly regulated and critical for producing mature viruses for infection and replication [4, 19–21]. Thus, PR is an attractive target for development of antiretroviral drugs. Protease inhibitors have drastically slowed the progression of disease and reduced the mortality rate in HIV-1 infected patients [22–25]. However, the high error rate of reverse transcriptase (RT) and high levels of viral replication, combined with lack of adherence to medication regimens, have led to the development of drug-resistant strains. Additional strategies are therefore needed for drug design to target cross-resistant PR variants.
In order to better understand the molecular basis for the chimeric phenotypes described above, we have analyzed the crystal structure of a 12X FIV/HIV chimeric PR in complex with TL-3 and compared that structure to FIV and HIV wild type PRs in complex with the same inhibitor. The results show little alteration in the hydrogen bonding network formed between residues in the active site and flap regions of PR and the inhibitor. However, there is an increase in packing contacts formed between the P1 phenyl group of TL-3 and residues in the "90s loop" of the chimeric PR which involve 5 of the 12 mutations. These interactions help to explain the increase in potency of TL-3 against the 12X FIV PR relative to FIV PR. Additional mutations in 12X FIV PR localized to the flap regions of PR result in the formation of contacts within and between monomers, which may be related to changes in substrate processing efficiency.
Two fold symmetric 12X FIV PR dimer binds C2 symmetric TL-3
To better understand the structural basis for the changes in substrate processing and efficiency as well as inhibitor specificity in the 12X FIV PR mutant, we determined the 1.7Å crystal structure of 12X FIV PR in complex with TL-3. The 12X FIV PR-TL3 complex crystallized in the space group P3121 with a monomer in the asymmetric unit and the C2 axis of the protease dimer coincident with a crystallographic 2-fold (Table 1). As a result, the structure of the complex is an average of the two half-sites. Similarly, TL-3 was bound in the active site of the 12X FIV PR with its C2 axis of symmetry coincident with the crystallographic 2-fold and, therefore, was modeled as one half of the C2 symmetric compound.
Mutations localized to 90s loop result in the formation of packing contacts with bound TL-3
Intra-flap and inter-flap interactions stabilize the closed conformation of the flap regions in 12X FIV PR
12X FIV PR is a transitional mutant with engineered drug susceptibility. The mutations found in 12X FIV PR change residues from their native amino acids to those at structurally equivalent positions in HIV PR. In this way, 12X FIV PR can be considered a transitional mutant that exhibits intermediate susceptibility to TL-3 (KiWT FIV PR = 41 nM; Ki12X FIV PR = 10 nM; KiHIV PR = 1.5 nM). While the 12 substitutions have no affect on the hydrogen bonding pattern between the protein and inhibitor, they do affect the packing interactions. The 90s loop in 12X FIV PR more closely resembles the 80s loop of HIV PR in sequence and conformational flexibility. The removal of a packing contacts formed by Val3732, Thr9780 and Ile10184 allows the 90s loop to shift more closely to the bound inhibitor. With the additional mutations of Ile9881 to Pro and Gln9982 to Val, the 90s loop becomes able to form the packing interaction with the P1' phenyl group of TL-3 as seen in the complex between HIV PR and TL-3. The loss of this particular packing contact was previously reported to result in a nearly 4-fold decrease in inhibition by TL-3 in 1X HIV PR, where 1X represents the V82A mutant (IC50WTHIVPR = 6 nM; IC501X HIV PR = 22 nM) [1, 26]. Hence, it is reasonable that recovery of this interaction in the 12X FIV PR would have the opposite affect, contributing to the TL-3 susceptibility of the enzyme (IC50WT FIV PR = 90 nM; IC5012X FIV PR = 71 nM).
The above findings account for observed changes in inhibitor specificity in the HIV/FIV chimeric PRs and support the involvement of targeted residues in the hinge, flap, and 90s loop in inhibitor binding (Fig. 1). Interestingly, changes in substrate cleavage are harder to institute, so that the virus is able to develop inhibitor resistance while replicating sufficiently to maintain virus production. As many as 24 HIV amino acid substitutions have been made in the FIV PR background without substantially increasing HIV substrate cleavage . Mutations that increase stability in the flap allow a degree of cleavage of HIV substrates by FIV, but levels do not approach that obtained by HIV PR . Several of the mutations in the 12X FIV PR could affect the stability of the flaps in either the open or closed state. In addition to Met5546 and Phe6253, which stabilize individual flaps (Fig. 5b), Ile5950 and Ile6354 could form reciprocal packing interactions between flaps, favoring a closed conformation . Loss of an equivalent interaction results in a 6 Å separation between flaps in the Phe53Leu mutant of apo-HIV PR . Two of the flap residues replaced in 12X FIV PR (Asn5546Met, Lys6354Ile) are also sites of mutation in the 'wide-open' conformation of a multidrug-resistant HIV PR . Molecular dynamics studies suggest that hydrophobic clustering of Val3732, Ile5950, Pro9881, and Val9982 within monomers could stabilize an open conformation of the enzyme . Saturation mutagenesis of HIV PR shows that of six flap residues mutated in 12X FIV PR, four (Met 5546, Gly5748, Ile5950, and Phe6253) result in intermediate activity if inserted into HIV PR, and two (Ile5647 and Ile6354) inactivate the enzyme . Clearly, the overall character of the PR contributes to the observed substrate specificity with the conformational preferences of the flaps being critical.
In addition, the context of PR in the natural substrate has a direct impact on overall processing efficiency. The critical role for PR in the virus life cycle is not only to process the Gag and Gag-Pol proteins specifically [31, 32], but also to perform cleavages in the proper order and temporal sequence . The processing sequence and efficiency of the HIV-1 Gag-Pol polyprotein has been studied in great detail and has been shown to be critical to generate infectious virus [20, 33, 34]. Of note is the finding that proper temporal cleavage of the Gag-Pol polyprotein is influenced by conformational constraints on PR "embedded" in the context of the polyprotein such that minor amino acid changes can alter the order of polyprotein cleavage . In particular, the replacement P1A appears to enhance mobility of the dimeric, embedded protease [21, 35]. Recent studies of FIV using the 12X mutant and additional FIV/HIV PR chimeras, when placed in the context of the Gag and Gag-Pol polyprotein, are consistent with the findings in HIV PR . The results show that the chimeric PRs cleave the natural Gag polyprotein substrate expressed in the context of pseudovirions. However, the addition of HIV residues with concomitant increase in HIV character results in inappropriate order of cleavage . Specifically, the NC-p2 cleavage junction was processed efficiently by wild type FIV PR, but poorly by the "HIVinized" FIV mutants. The junctions on either side of NC are the earliest processing sites and the proper timing of these cleavages is critical to generation of infectious HIV virions [20, 21, 34]. FIVs encoding the chimeric PRs are non-infectious and it is probable that temporal changes in processing are responsible, due to altered rates of cleavage arising from the structural changes identified here. Increased rigidity of the flaps of HIV PR has been previously demonstrated to alter substrate cleavage kinetics by increasing the off-rate . Recent molecular dynamics simulations have emphasized the importance of flap mobility on function in the crowded molecular environment of the cell . The phenomenon has also been observed in other systems where allosteric effects have led to an increased residency time in the enzyme active site [38, 39]. Obtaining the structure of PR in the context of the polyprotein would be of great interest in better defining structural constraints, and stands as a challenge for future experimentation.
The 1.7 Å resolution crystal structure of FIV protease (PR), in which 12 critical residues around the active site have been substituted with structurally equivalent residues in HIV PR, was determined in complex with the broad-based inhibitor TL-3. The structure, in comparison with structures of HIV and FIV PRs with TL-3 bound, demonstrates how substitutions which make FIV PR more HIV-like result in altered inhibition constants in the order HIV PR > 12X FIV PR > FIV PR. The analysis shows how 12X FIV PR gains several stabilizing intra- and inter-flap interactions that resemble those in HIV PR, while retaining hydrogen bonding interactions common to both FIV and HIV PRs. The structural details suggest that changes in flap mobility may be related to changes in substrate processing efficiency, thereby affecting cleavage of Gag and Gag-Pol sites by FIV vs. HIV protease. The results provide better understanding of the molecular basis of HIV-1 and FIV protease (PR) substrate specificities in vivo, and are relevant to the development of broad-spectrum protease inhibitors that can inhibit both wild type and drug-resistant proteases.
Mutagenesis of chimeric FIV PRs
Chimeric FIV PRs were constructed by substituting the residues of FIV PR for the structurally equivalent residues of HIV-1 PR with PCR-mediated megaprimer site-directed mutagenesis as described . The chimeric PR genes were digested with NdeI and HindIII and cloned into pET-21a (Novagen, Inc.). The substitutions were verified by dideoxy DNA sequencing. All protease constructs were over-expressed in E. coli strain BL21.DE3/pLysS using T7-driven expression in the context of the pET21 vector (Novagen) [13, 17]. Expression was induced by treatment of late log phase cells with 1 mM isopropylthiogalactopyranoside (IPTG) for 3 hr at 37°C.
Purification and refolding of mutant FIV PR
PRs were purified and re-folded for crystallization following the previously described procedure . Inclusion bodies containing 12X protease were purified by resuspending the cell pellet from 1 liter of cell culture in 20 mM Tris, 2 mM EDTA (TE), pH 8 buffer containing 1% NP-40 and stirring for 20 min at RT. The solution was then treated in a Waring blender for 30 seconds, and 100 ml of 8 M urea + TE buffer was added with stirring at 4 deg C for 20 min. Inclusion bodies were pelleted at 8,000 × g for 1 hr. and subsequently washed with deionized water until the pelleted inclusion bodies stuck to the side of the centrifuge tube (typically after the third wash). Inclusion bodies were solubilized in 8 M urea in TE buffer, 10 mM DTT with gentle rocking overnight at 4°C. Insoluble material was removed by centrifugation, followed by filtration through a 0.45 μm membrane. Solid DE52 (Whatman; 20 g) was then added and the solution was incubated at 4°C for 1 hr. and then filtered through a 0.45 μm membrane. The DE52 was discarded and the filtered solution containing protease was then applied to an RQ column (J.T. Baker) that had been equilibrated in 8 M urea, 20 mM Tris, 2 mM EDTA, pH 8.0. The column flow through containing the protease was collected and refolded by dialysis against 20 mM sodium phosphate, pH 7.2, 25 mM NaCl, and 0.2% 2-mercaptoethanol overnight at 4°C, followed by dialysis against 10 mM sodium acetate, pH 5.2, 0.2% 2-mercaptoethanol for 3 hr. The refolded protease was centrifuged for 20 min. at 38,000 g at 4°C to remove any precipitated material. The sample was then concentrated using a centrifuge concentrator (Amicon Ultra 10,000 MW cut-off), washed twice with 20 mM sodium acetate, pH 5.2 saturated with TL-3, and then concentrated to 5–10 mg/ml.
Crystallization and data collection
1 μl of 12X FIV PR at 2.5 mg/ml with added TL-3 was mixed with 1 μl of 2.5 M lithium chloride, 100 mM Hepes, pH 7.5, and equilibrated by hanging drop vapor diffusion against this reservoir solution at 8°C. Prismatic trigonal crystals formed within one week. The crystals were transferred to a synthetic mother liquor solution containing 15% propylene glycol for a several seconds, and then flash frozen in liquid N2.
Diffraction data were collected at 100 K by the rotation method (120 frames, 1° oscillation per frame) to 1.7 Å resolution at beam line 1–5 (λ = 0.979 Å) at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory. The data were processed with Mosflm  and Scala  (Table 1).
Structure solution and refinement
a, b, c (Å)
50.32 50.32 74.16
Solvent content (%)
SSRL beam line
Resolution range (Å)
74.0 – 1.70
Reflections > 0.0 σF
Rfree (% of data)
R.m.s. deviation, bonds (Å)
R.m.s. deviation, angles (deg)
<B-factor> (Å 2 )
Protein Data Bank accession numbers
The 12X FIV protease complex crystal structure with the inhibitor TL-3 has been deposited into the RCSB Protein Data Bank and has been assigned the accession code 2HAH.
C.D. Stout, B.E. Torbett and J.H. Elder are supported by the N.I.H. grant GM48870. Additional support for B.E. Torbett and J.H. Elder comes from the N.I.H. grant AI40882. We would like to thank Duncan McRee, Isaac Hoffman, Robin Rosenfeld and the staff at Active Sight, San Diego, for assistance in crystallization screening. We thank the staff of the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (SSRL) for expert technical support and access to resources. SSRL is a national user facility operated by Stanford University on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Sciences. The SSRL Structural Molecular Biology Program is supported by the Department of Energy, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, and by the National Institutes of Health, National Center for Research Resources, Biomedical Technology Program, and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.
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