OBJECTIVE: HIV-1 particles are enriched with cholesterol; however, the significance of this cholesterol enrichment is unknown. This study examines the structural and functional roles of cholesterol in HIV-1 replication.
METHODS: Using methyl-beta-cyclodextrin (CD) to remove cholesterol from the HIV-1 envelope, buoyant density and infectivity of the cholesterol-deficient HIV-1 particles were compared with the untreated control. The specificity and requirement of cholesterol as an HIV-1-associated lipid were investigated by replenishing cholesterol-deficient HIV-1 with cholesterol, cholestenone (a cholesterol structural analogue) or sphingomyelin (a structurally unrelated yet virion-associated lipid).
RESULTS: CD-mediated removal of virion cholesterol increased the buoyant density of virion particles and reduced HIV-1 infectivity. Trans-supplementation of exogenous cholesterol rescued the defects associated with CD-induced cholesterol depletion in HIV-1. However, the restoration of viral infectivity could not be achieved by trans-supplementation of either cholestenone or sphingomyelin.
CONCLUSION: This study provides the first direct evidence that HIV-1-associated cholesterol is important for the maintenance of virion structure and infectivity. While the buoyant density of cholesterol-defective HIV-1 can be restored by a cholesterol structural analogue, cholestenone, the requirement for cholesterol is essential for HIV-1 infectivity.