An inducible Cell-Cell fusion system with integrated ability to measure the efficiency and specificity of HIV-1 entry inhibitors

Alon Herschhorn, Andres Finzi, David M. Jones, Joel R. Courter, Akihiro Sugawara, Amos B. Smith, Joseph G. Sodroski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


HIV-1 envelope glycoproteins (Envs) mediate virus entry by fusing the viral and target cell membranes, a multi-step process that represents an attractive target for inhibition. Entry inhibitors with broad-range activity against diverse isolates of HIV-1 may be extremely useful as lead compounds for the development of therapies or prophylactic microbicides. To facilitate the identification of such inhibitors, we have constructed a cell-cell fusion system capable of simultaneously monitoring inhibition efficiency and specificity. In this system, effector cells stably express a tetracycline-controlled transactivator (tTA) that enables tightly inducible expression of both HIV-1 Env and the Renilla luciferase (R-Luc) reporter protein. Target cells express the HIV-1 receptors, CD4 and CCR5, and carry the firefly luciferase (F-Luc) reporter gene under the control of a tTA-responsive promoter. Thus, Env-mediated fusion of these two cell types allows the tTA to diffuse to the target cell and activate the expression of the F-Luc protein. The efficiency with which an inhibitor blocks cell-cell fusion is measured by a decrease in the F-Luc activity, while the specificity of the inhibitor is evaluated by its effect on the R-Luc activity. The system exhibited a high dynamic range and high Z'-factor values. The assay was validated with a reference panel of inhibitors that target different steps in HIV-1 entry, yielding inhibitory concentrations comparable to published virus inhibition data. Our system is suitable for large-scale screening of chemical libraries and can also be used for detailed characterization of inhibitory and cytotoxic properties of known entry inhibitors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere26731
JournalPLoS One
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2011


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