Identification of the minimal conserved structure of HIV-1 protease in the presence and absence of drug pressure

Francesca Ceccherini-Silberstein, Fulvio Erba, Federico Gago, Ada Bertoli, Federica Forbici, Maria Concetta Bellocchi, Caterina Gori, Roberta D'Arrigo, Luisa Marcon, Claudia Balotta, Andrea Antinori, Antonella D'Arminio Monforte, Carlo Federico Perno

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To define the extent of amino acid protease (PR) conservation in vivo in the absence and presence of pharmacological pressure in a large patient cohort. Methods: Plasma-derived complete protein PR sequences from a well-defined cohort of 1096 HIV-1 infected individuals (457 drug-naive and 639 under antiretroviral therapy including PR-inhibitors) were obtained and analysed, and are discussed in a structural context. Results: In naive patients, the PR sequence showed conservation (<1% variability) in 68 out of 99 (69%) residues. Five large conserved regions were observed, one (P1-P9) at the N-terminal site, another (E21-V32) comprised the catalytic active-site, a third (P44-V56) contained the flap, a fourth contained the region G78-N88, and another (G94-F99) contained the C-terminal site. In PR-inhibitor treated patients, the appearance of mutations primarily associated with drug resistance determined a decrease of amino acid invariance to 45 out of 99 residues (45% conservation). The overall degree of enzyme conservation, when compared to the PR sequences in drug-naive patients, was preserved at the N- and C-terminal regions, whereas the other large conserved areas decreased to smaller domains containing, respectively, the active-site residues D25-D29, the tip of the flap G49-G52, and the G78-P81 and G86-R87 turns. Conclusions: Amino acid conservation in HIV PR can be minimally present in 45 residues out of 99. Identification of these invariable residues, with crucial roles in dimer stability, protein flexibility and catalytic activity, and their mapping on the three-dimensional structure of the enzyme will help guide the design of novel resistance-evading drugs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-19
Number of pages9
JournalAIDS (London, England)
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Aug 20 2004


  • Antiretroviral therapy
  • Conservation
  • Genotype
  • HIV drug resistance
  • Protease
  • Resistance mutations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Immunology and Allergy


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