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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Emerging complexities of APOBEC3G action on immunity and viral fitness during HIV infection and treatment

Mahdis Monajemi1, Claire F Woodworth2, Jessica Benkaroun2, Michael Grant3* and Mani Larijani3*

Author Affiliations

1 Immunology and Infectious Diseases Program, Division of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Newfoundland, Canada

2 Mani Larijani, Division of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Health Sciences Center, MUN, 300 Prince Phillip Dr., St. John’s, NL, A1B 3V6, Canada

3 Division of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Health Sciences Center, MUN, 300 Prince Phillip Dr., St. John’s, NL, A1B 3V6, Canada

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Retrovirology 2012, 9:35  doi:10.1186/1742-4690-9-35

Published: 30 April 2012

Abstract

The enzyme APOBEC3G (A3G) mutates the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) genome by converting deoxycytidine (dC) to deoxyuridine (dU) on minus strand viral DNA during reverse transcription. A3G restricts viral propagation by degrading or incapacitating the coding ability of the HIV genome. Thus, this enzyme has been perceived as an innate immune barrier to viral replication whilst adaptive immunity responses escalate to effective levels. The discovery of A3G less than a decade ago led to the promise of new anti-viral therapies based on manipulation of its cellular expression and/or activity. The rationale for therapeutic approaches has been solidified by demonstration of the effectiveness of A3G in diminishing viral replication in cell culture systems of HIV infection, reports of its mutational footprint in virions from patients, and recognition of its unusually robust enzymatic potential in biochemical studies in vitro. Despite its effectiveness in various experimental systems, numerous recent studies have shown that the ability of A3G to combat HIV in the physiological setting is severely limited. In fact, it has become apparent that its mutational activity may actually enhance viral fitness by accelerating HIV evolution towards the evasion of both anti-viral drugs and the immune system. This body of work suggests that the role of A3G in HIV infection is more complex than heretofore appreciated and supports the hypothesis that HIV has evolved to exploit the action of this host factor. Here we present an overview of recent data that bring to light historical overestimation of A3G’s standing as a strictly anti-viral agent. We discuss the limitations of experimental systems used to assess its activities as well as caveats in data interpretation.