Antibody-induced internalisation of retroviral envelope glycoproteins is a signal initiation event

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As obligate parasites, viruses highjack, modify and repurpose the cellular machinery for their own replication. Viral proteins have, therefore, evolved biological functions, such as signalling potential, that alter host cell physiology in ways that are still incompletely understood. Retroviral envelope glycoproteins interact with several host proteins, extracellularly with their cellular receptor and anti-envelope antibodies, and intracellularly with proteins of the cytoskeleton or sorting, endocytosis and recirculation pathways. Here, we examined the impact of endogenous retroviral envelope glycoprotein expression and interaction with host proteins, particularly antibodies, on the cell, independently of retroviral infection. We found that in the commonly used C57BL/6 substrains of mice, where murine leukaemia virus (MLV) envelope glycoproteins are expressed by several endogenous MLV proviruses, the highest expressed MLV envelope glycoprotein is under the control of an immune-responsive cellular promoter, thus linking MLV envelope glycoprotein expression with immune activation. We further showed that antibody ligation induces extensive internalisation from the plasma membrane into endocytic compartments of MLV envelope glycoproteins, which are not normally subject to constitutive endocytosis. Importantly, antibody binding and internalisation of MLV envelope glycoproteins initiates signalling cascades in envelope-expressing murine lymphocytic cell lines, leading to cellular activation. Similar effects were observed by MLV envelope glycoprotein ligation by its cellular receptor mCAT-1, and by overexpression in human lymphocytic cells, where it required an intact tyrosine-based YXXΦ motif in the envelope glycoprotein cytoplasmic tail. Together, these results suggest that signalling potential is a general property of retroviral envelope glycoproteins and, therefore, a target for intervention.

Journal details

Journal PLOS Pathogens
Volume 16
Issue number 5
Pages e1008605
Publication date