Open Access Research article

The intriguing Cyclophilin A-HIV-1 Vpr interaction: prolyl cis/trans isomerisation catalysis and specific binding

Sara M Solbak12, Tove R Reksten123, Victor Wray3, Karsten Bruns3, Ole Horvli4, Arnt J Raae4, Petra Henklein5, Peter Henklein5, Rene Röder5, David Mitzner6, Ulrich Schubert6 and Torgils Fossen12*

Author Affiliations

1 From the Department of Chemistry, University of Bergen, N-5007 Bergen, Norway

2 Centre of Pharmacy, University of Bergen, N-5007 Bergen, Norway

3 Department of Structural Biology, Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, D-38124 Braunschweig, Germany

4 Department of Molecular Biology, University of Bergen, N-5020 Bergen, Norway

5 Institute of Biochemistry, Charité Universitätsmedizin-Berlin, D-10117 Berlin, Germany

6 Institute of Virology, University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, D-91054 Erlangen, Germany

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BMC Structural Biology 2010, 10:31  doi:10.1186/1472-6807-10-31

Published: 4 October 2010



Cyclophilin A (CypA) represents a potential target for antiretroviral therapy since inhibition of CypA suppresses human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) replication, although the mechanism through which CypA modulates HIV-1 infectivity still remains unclear. The interaction of HIV-1 viral protein R (Vpr) with the human peptidyl prolyl isomerase CypA is known to occur in vitro and in vivo. However, the nature of the interaction of CypA with Pro-35 of N-terminal Vpr has remained undefined.


Characterization of the interactions of human CypA with N-terminal peptides of HIV-1 Vpr has been achieved using a combination of nuclear magnetic resonace (NMR) exchange spectroscopy and surface plasmon resonance spectroscopy (SPR). NMR data at atomic resolution indicate prolyl cis/trans isomerisation of the highly conserved proline residues Pro-5, -10, -14 and -35 of Vpr are catalyzed by human CypA and require only very low concentrations of the isomerase relative to that of the peptide substrates. Of the N-terminal peptides of Vpr only those containing Pro-35 bind to CypA in a biosensor assay. SPR studies of specific N-terminal peptides with decreasing numbers of residues revealed that a seven-residue motif centred at Pro-35 consisting of RHFPRIW, which under membrane-like solution conditions comprises the loop region connecting helix 1 and 2 of Vpr and the two terminal residues of helix 1, is sufficient to maintain strong specific binding.


Only N-terminal peptides of Vpr containing Pro-35, which appears to be vital for manifold functions of Vpr, bind to CypA in a biosensor assay. This indicates that Pro-35 is essential for a specific CypA-Vpr binding interaction, in contrast to the general prolyl cis/trans isomerisation observed for all proline residues of Vpr, which only involve transient enzyme-substrate interactions. Previously suggested models depicting CypA as a chaperone that plays a role in HIV-1 virulence are now supported by our data. In detail the SPR data of this interaction were compatible with a two-state binding interaction model that involves a conformational change during binding. This is in accord with the structural changes observed by NMR suggesting CypA catalyzes the prolyl cis/trans interconversion during binding to the RHFP35RIW motif of N-terminal Vpr.