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Cyanovirin-N (CV-N), an 11-kDa protein isolated from the cyanobacterium Nostoc ellipsosporum, potently inactivates diverse strains of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1), HIV-2, and simian immunodeficiency virus. While it has been well established that the viral surface envelope glycoprotein gp120 is a molecular target of CV-N, the detailed mechanism of action is of further interest. We compared matched native and CV-N-treated virus preparations in a panel of assays that measure viral replication, assessing successive stages of the viral life cycle. CV-N-treated virions failed to infect cells as detected by p24 production and quantitative PCR for HIV-1 reverse transcription products, whereas treatment of the target cells did not block infection, confirming that CV-N acts at the level of the virus, not the target cell, to abort the initial infection process. Compared to native HIV-1 preparations, CV-N-treated HIV-1 virions showed impaired CD4-dependent binding to CD4(+) T cells and did not mediate "fusion from without" of CD4(+) target cells. CV-N also blocked HIV envelope glycoprotein Env-induced, CD4-dependent cell-cell fusion. Mapping studies with monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) to defined epitopes on the HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein indicated that CV-N binds to gp120 in a manner that does not occlude or alter the CD4 binding site or V3 loop or other domains on gp120 recognized by defined MAbs and does not interfere with soluble CD4-induced conformational changes in gp120. Binding of CV-N to soluble gp120 or virions inhibited subsequent binding of the unique neutralizing MAb 2G12, which recognizes a glycosylation-dependent epitope. However, prior binding of 2G12 MAb to gp120 did not block subsequent binding by CV-N. These results help clarify the mechanism of action of CV-N and suggest that the compound may act in part by preventing essential interactions between the envelope glycoprotein and target cell receptors. This proposed mechanism is consistent with the extensive activity profile of CV-N against numerous isolates of HIV-1 and other lentiviruses and supports the potential broad utility of this protein as a microbicide to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV.


Journal article


Journal of virology

Publication Date





4360 - 4371


Retroviral Pathogenesis Laboratory, AIDS Vaccine Program, SAIC-Frederick, Frederick, Maryland 21702, USA.


Tumor Cells, Cultured, Humans, HIV-1, Virion, Bacterial Proteins, Carrier Proteins, Antigens, CD4, HIV Envelope Protein gp120, Epitopes, B-Lymphocyte, Anti-HIV Agents, Neutralization Tests, Membrane Fusion, Transcription, Genetic, Binding Sites, Protein Conformation, Solubility