Evidence for a cytopathogenicity determinant in HIV-1 Vpr

Mohan Somasundaran, Mark Sharkey, Beda Brichacek, Katherine Luzuriaga, Michael Emerman, John L. Sullivan, Mario Stevenson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


HIV-1 is cytopathic for CD4+ T lymphocytes in vitro and this property of HIV-1 is generally considered to account for some of its in vivo cytopathogenicity. Thus, the extent of lymphocyte depletion correlates with the level of viremia whereas low levels of viral replication are typically associated with stable lymphocyte levels and asymptomatic infection such as is observed in non-progressors. Here, we describe a non-progressor who did not fit this general pattern in that CD4+ T lymphocyte homeostasis was maintained in the face of high-level viral replication. Biological viral isolates from this patient replicated in primary lymphocytes without inducing cytopathicity. Because this phenotype is reminiscent of Vpr-deleted viruses, we examined the contribution of the Vpr gene to the viral phenotype. Vpr alleles derived from this patient contained both premature stop codons and an unusual Q3R polymorphism. Insertion of patient derived Vpr alleles or a Q3R substitution into a cytopathic HIV-1 clone resulted in a marked impairment of cytopathicity without affecting viral replication efficiency. The effect of Vpr on cytopathicity was unrelated to reported activities of Vpr including virion association, interaction with uracil DNA glycosylase, G2 arrest, or enhancement of macrophage infection but correlated with the ability of Vpr to induce host cell apoptosis. This study suggests the presence of a determinant of in vivo cytopathogenicity within HIV-1 Vpr and further indicates that viral replication can be uncoupled from cytopathicity in vitro and in vivo.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9503-9508
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 9 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Accessory proteins
  • Apoptosis
  • Non-progressive infection
  • Pathogenesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • General


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