HIV-1 Fusion Peptide Decreases Bending Energy and Promotes Curved Fusion Intermediates
A crucial step in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is fusion between the viral envelope and the T-cell membrane, which must involve intermediate membrane states with high curvature. Our main result from diffuse x-ray scattering is that the bending modulus KC is greatly reduced upon addition of the HIV fusion peptide FP-23 to lipid bilayers. A smaller bending modulus reduces the free energy barriers required to achieve and pass through the highly curved intermediate states and thereby facilitates fusion and HIV infection. The reduction in KC is by a factor of 13 for the thicker, stiffer 1,2-sn-dierucoylphosphatidylcholine bilayers and by a factor of 3 for 1,2-sn-dioleoylphosphatidylcholine bilayers. The reduction in KC decays exponentially with concentration of FP-23, and the 1/e concentration is,1 mol%peptide/lipid, which is well within the physiological range for a fusion site. A secondary result is, when FP-23 is added to the samples which consist of stacks of membranes, that the distance between membranes increases and eventually becomes infinite at full hydration (unbinding); we attribute this both to electrostatic repulsion of the positively charged arginine in the FP-23 and to an increase in the repulsive fluctuation interaction brought about by the smaller KC. Although this latter interaction works against membrane fusion, our results show that the energy that it requires of the fusion protein machinery to bring the HIV envelope membrane and the target T-cell membrane into close contact is negligible.