Academic, Hiv, gp41, fpr2, retrocyclin, fusion


Fusion inhibitors are a class of antiretroviral drugs used to prevent entry of HIV into host cells. Many of the fusion inhibitors being developed, including the drug enfuvirtide (ENF), are peptides designed to mimic, and thereby competitively inhibit, the viral fusion protein gp41. An exception to this is a class of cyclic, cationic, antimicrobial peptides known as θ-defensins, which are produced by many non-human primates and exhibit broad-spectrum antiviral and antibacterial activity. Currently, the θ-defensin analog RC-101 is being developed as a microbicide to prevent sexual transmission of HIV-1. Understanding potential RC-101 resistance, and how resistance to other fusion inhibitors affects RC-101 susceptibility, is critical for future development. Partial drug resistance due to genetic variability within HIV-1 presents a major hurdle in microbicide development. Drug-resistance mutations, whether naturally occurring or resulting from selection during treatment, often apply to many drugs in a particular class. Combining different drug classes into a single microbicide should provide greater protection against the growing variability observed in HIV. Our work has identified the beneficial effects of combining the fusion inhibitor RC-101 and the RT inhibitor CSIC to prevent transmission of clinically isolated and drug-resistant HIV-1. Several aspects of HIV-1 virulence and pathogenesis are mediated by the envelope protein gp41. Additionally, peptides derived from the gp41 ectodomain have been shown to induce chemotaxis in monocytes and neutrophils. While this chemotactic activity has been characterized, it is not known how these peptides could be produced under biological conditions. Our findings demonstrate that the epithelial serine protease matriptase efficiently cleaves the gp41 HR1 region at conserved residues into a chemotactic peptide. Here, we present evidence that advances our understanding of resistance to peptide entry inhibitors, reveals a potential benefit to combining specific drugs in an antiviral microbicide, and identifies a pathway by which HIV-1 may generate peptides to exploit host immunity. This work thereby facilitates improved methods in countering drug resistance and the development of new antiviral approaches to prevent HIV-1 transmission. Additionally, we have revealed basic mechanistic evidence that shed light on our current understanding of HIV-1 infection. Specifically, our focus on gp41 provides much needed insight into its role in membrane fusion, drug susceptibility, and modification of host responses.


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Graduation Date





Cole, Alexander


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Medicine


Molecular Biology and Microbiology

Degree Program

Biomedical Sciences








Release Date

November 2019

Length of Campus-only Access

5 years

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Medicine; Medicine -- Dissertations, Academic