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Oligomerization of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) Vpu protein – a genetic, biochemical and biophysical analysis

Amjad Hussain1, Suman R Das12, Charu Tanwar1 and Shahid Jameel1*

Author Affiliations

1 Virology Group, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi, India

2 Laboratory of Viral Diseases, NIAID, NIH, Bethesda, MD, USA

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Virology Journal 2007, 4:81  doi:10.1186/1743-422X-4-81

Published: 29 August 2007



The human immunodeficiency virus type 1(HIV-1) is a complex retrovirus and the causative agent of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). The HIV-1 Vpu protein is an oligomeric integral membrane protein essential for particle release, viral load and CD4 degradation. In silico models show Vpu to form pentamers with an ion channel activity.


Using Vpu proteins from a primary subtype C and the pNL4-3 subtype B isolates of HIV-1, we show oligomerization of the full-length protein as well as its transmembrane (TM) domain by genetic, biochemical and biophysical methods. We also provide direct evidence of the presence of Vpu pentamers in a stable equilibrium with its monomers in vitro. This was also true for the TM domain of Vpu. Confocal microscopy localized Vpu to the endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi regions of the cell, as well as to post-Golgi vesicles. In fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) experiments in live cells we show that Vpu oligomerizes in what appears to be either the Golgi region or intracellular vesicles, but not in the ER.


We provide here direct evidence that the TM domain, is critical for Vpu oligomerization and the most favourable channel assembly is a pentamer. The Vpu oligomerization appears to be either the Golgi region or intracellular vesicles, but not in the ER.