The mature form of the envelope (Env) glycoprotein of lentiviruses is a heterodimer composed of the surface (SU) and transmembrane (TM) subunits. Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) possesses a TM glycoprotein with a cytoplasmic tail of approximately 53 amino acids which is unusually short compared with that of the other lentiviral glycoproteins (more than 100 residues). To investigate the relevance of the FIV TM cytoplasmic domain to Env-mediated viral functions, we characterized the biological properties of a series of Env glycoproteins progressively shortened from the carboxyl terminus. All the mutant Env proteins were efficiently expressed in feline cells and processed into the SU and TM subunits. Deletion of 5 or 11 amino acids from the TM C-terminus did not significantly affect Env surface expression, fusogenic activity or Env incorporation into virions, whereas removal of 17 or 23 residues impaired Env-mediated cell-to-cell fusion. Further truncation of the FIV TM by 29 residues resulted in an Env glycoprotein that was poorly expressed at the cell surface, exhibited only 20% of the wild-type Env fusogenic capacity and was inefficiently incorporated into virions. Remarkably, deletion of the TM C-terminal 35 or 41 amino acids restored or even enhanced Env biological functions. Indeed, these mutant Env glycoproteins bearing cytoplasmic domains of 18 or 12 amino acids were found to be significantly more fusogenic than the wild-type Env and were efficiently incorporated into virions. Interestingly, truncation of the TM cytoplasmic domain to only 6 amino acids did not affect Env incorporation into virions but abrogated Env fusogenicity. Finally, removal of the entire TM cytoplasmic tail or deletion of as many as 6 amino acids into the membrane-spanning domain led to a complete loss of Env functions. Our results demonstrate that despite its relatively short length, the FIV TM cytoplasmic domain plays an important role in modulating Env-mediated viral functions.
- Envelope cytoplasmic domain
- Envelope glycoprotein
- Feline immunodeficiency virus
- Fusogenic activity
- Transmembrane glycoprotein