Kinetically coupled folding of a single HIV-1 glycoprotein 41 complex in viral membrane fusion and inhibition

Junyi Jiao, Aleksander A. Rebane, Lu Ma, Ying Gao, Yongli Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


HIV-1 glycoprotein 41 (gp41) mediates viral entry into host cells by coupling its folding energy to membrane fusion. Gp41 folding is blocked by fusion inhibitors, including the commercial drug T20, to treat HIV/AIDS. However, gp41 folding intermediates, energy, and kinetics are poorly understood. Here, we identified the folding intermediates of a single gp41 trimer-of-hairpins and measured their associated energy and kinetics using high-resolution optical tweezers. We found that folding of gp41 hairpins was energetically independent but kinetically coupled: Each hairpin contributed a folding energy of ∼-23 kBT, but folding of one hairpin successively accelerated the folding rate of the next one by ∼20-fold. Membrane-mimicking micelles slowed down gp41 folding and reduced the stability of the six-helix bundle. However, the stability was restored by cooperative folding of the membrane-proximal external region. Surprisingly, T20 strongly inhibited gp41 folding by actively displacing the C-terminal hairpin strand in a force-dependent manner. The inhibition was abolished by a T20-resistant gp41 mutation. The energetics and kinetics of gp41 folding established by us provides a basis to understand viral membrane fusion, infection, and therapeutic intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E2855-E2864
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number22
StatePublished - Jun 2 2015


  • Fusion inhibitor
  • Optical tweezers
  • Protein folding
  • Viral fusion
  • gp41 complex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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