Satish K Pillai1,2
, Joseph K Wong1,2
and Jason D Barbour1
1Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94121, USA
2Veterans Affairs Medical Center, San Francisco, CA 94121, USA
APOBEC3G and APOBEC3F are human cytidine deaminases that serve as innate antiviral defense mechanisms primarily by introducing C-to-U changes in the minus strand DNA of retroviruses during replication (resulting in G-to-A mutations in the genomic sense strand sequence). The HIV-1 Vif protein counteracts this defense by promoting the proteolytic degradation of APOBEC3G and APOBEC3F in the host cell. In the absence of Vif expression, APOBEC3 is incorporated into HIV-1 virions and the viral genome undergoes extensive G-to-A mutation, or "hypermutation", typically rendering it non-viable within a single replicative cycle. Consequently, Vif is emerging as an attractive target for pharmacological intervention and therapeutic vaccination. Although a highly effective Vif inhibitor may result in mutational meltdown of the viral quasispecies, a partially effective Vif inhibitor may accelerate the evolution of drug resistance and immune escape due to the codon structure and recombinogenic nature of HIV-1. This hypothesis rests on two principal assumptions which are supported by experimental evidence: a) there is a dose response between intracellular APOBEC concentration and degree of viral hypermutation, and, b) HIV-1 can tolerate an elevated mutation rate, and a true error or extinction threshold is as yet undetermined. Rigorous testing of this hypothesis will have timely and critical implications for the therapeutic management of HIV/AIDS, and delve into the complexities underlying the induction of lethal mutagenesis in a viral pathogen.
◊ An open access article from Retrovirology 2008, 5:26, viewed from Biology-Online.org.