Open Access Highly Accessed Research

The transmembrane domain of HIV-1 Vpu is sufficient to confer anti-tetherin activity to SIVcpz and SIVgor Vpu proteins: cytoplasmic determinants of Vpu function

Silvia F Kluge1, Daniel Sauter1, Michael Vogl1, Martine Peeters2, Yingying Li3, Frederic Bibollet-Ruche3, Beatrice H Hahn3 and Frank Kirchhoff1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Molecular Virology, Ulm University Medical Center, Ulm, 89081, Germany

2 UMR 145, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), Université de Montpellier, Montpellier, France

3 Departments of Medicine and Microbiology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, 19104, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

Retrovirology 2013, 10:32  doi:10.1186/1742-4690-10-32

Published: 20 March 2013



The acquisition of effective Vpu-mediated anti-tetherin activity to promote virion release following transmission of SIVcpzPtt from central chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) to humans distinguishes pandemic HIV-1 group M strains from non-pandemic group N, O and P viruses and may have been a prerequisite for their global spread. Some functional motifs in the cytoplasmic region of HIV-1 M Vpus proposed to be important for anti-tetherin activity are more frequently found in the Vpu proteins of SIVcpzPtt than in those of SIVcpzPts infecting eastern chimpanzees (P. t. schweinfurthii), that have not been detected in humans, and SIVgor from gorillas, which is closely related to HIV-1 O and P. Thus, SIVcpzPtt strains may require fewer adaptive changes in Vpu than SIVcpzPts or SIVgor strains to counteract human tetherin.


To examine whether SIVcpzPtt may only need changes in the transmembrane domain (TMD) of Vpu to acquire anti-tetherin activity, whereas SIVcpzPts and SIVgor may also require changes in the cytoplasmic region, we analyzed chimeras between the TMD of an HIV-1 M Vpu and the cytoplasmic domains of SIVcpzPtt (n = 2), SIVcpzPts (n = 2) and SIVgor (n = 2) Vpu proteins. Unexpectedly, all of these chimeras were capable of counteracting human tetherin to enhance virion release, irrespective of the presence or absence of the putative adaptor protein binding sites and the DSGxxS β-TrCP binding motif reported to be critical for effective anti-tetherin activity of M Vpus. It was also surprising that in three of the six chimeras the gain of anti-tetherin function was associated with a loss of the CD4 degradation activity since this function was conserved among all parental HIV-1, SIVcpz and SIVgor Vpu proteins.


Our results show that changes in the TMD of SIVcpzPtt, SIVcpzPts and SIVgor Vpus are sufficient to render them active against human tetherin. Thus, several previously described domains in the extracellular region of Vpu are not absolutely essential for tetherin antagonism but may be required for other Vpu functions.