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Tetraspanins regulate cell-to-cell transmission of HIV-1

Dimitry N Krementsov13, Jia Weng12, Marie Lambelé1, Nathan H Roy13 and Markus Thali123*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 05405, USA

2 Graduate Program in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 05405, USA

3 Graduate Program in Cellular and Molecular Biology, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 05405, USA

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Retrovirology 2009, 6:64  doi:10.1186/1742-4690-6-64

Published: 14 July 2009



The presence of the tetraspanins CD9, CD63, CD81 and CD82 at HIV-1 budding sites, at the virological synapse (VS), and their enrichment in HIV-1 virions has been well-documented, but it remained unclear if these proteins play a role in the late phase of the viral replication cycle. Here we used overexpression and knockdown approaches to address this question.


Neither ablation of CD9, CD63 and/or CD81, nor overexpression of these tetraspanins was found to affect the efficiency of virus release. However, confirming recently reported data, tetraspanin overexpression in virus-producing cells resulted in the release of virions with substantially reduced infectivity. We also investigated the roles of these tetraspanins in cell-to-cell transmission of HIV-1. Overexpression of CD9 and CD63 led to reduced cell-to-cell transmission of this virus. Interestingly, in knockdown experiments we found that ablation of CD63, CD9 and/or CD81 had no effect on cell-free infectivity. However, knockdown of CD81, but not CD9 and CD63, enhanced productive particle transmission to target cells, suggesting additional roles for tetraspanins in the transmission process. Finally, tetraspanins were found to be downregulated in HIV-1-infected T lymphocytes, suggesting that HIV-1 modulates the levels of these proteins in order to maximize the efficiency of its transmission within the host.


Altogether, these results establish an active role of tetraspanins in HIV-1 producer cells.