Properties of recombinant HIV and SIV antigens
When expressed in Spodoptera frugiperda cells using recombinant baculoviruses, the HIV - 1 gag gene product, p55, self assembles to form immature HIV core like particles that are secreted into the culture medium. Using this system, the gag open reading frame was progressively truncated from the carboxy terminus, and each deleted Gag protein examined for its ability to produce core like particles. Deletions that removed the distal region of the Gag nucleocapsid domain, including both Cys - His motifs thought to function as RNA capture signals, did not disrupt particle formation. Analysis of the truncation mutants by north - western blot with a radiolabelled HIV - 1 RNA encapsidation signal, confirmed that only precursors with the Cys - His motif present were able to bind the probe. It was concluded that HIV - 1 Gag particle formation per se does not require RNA encapsidation. This finding clarifies uncertainties proposed previously regarding the role of RNA encapsidation in particle assembly. Further deletion mutants led to the delineation of the carboxy terminal boundary of a Gag assembly domain. Properties of the SIV env encoded TM glycoprotein were also explored. Previous reports have found that the cytoplasmic tail of this membrane spanning protein was preferentially deleted in vivo when SIV was grown in a variety of cultured human cells. However, when propagated in cells of simian origin, the TM glycoprotein cytoplasmic tail was retained. Analysis of the function of this domain was addressed by expression of both the truncated and the full length proteins in insect cells using recombinant baculoviruses, coupled with a study of their biochemical characteristics. A role for the cytoplasmic tail was identified in the post - translational modification and localization of the glycoprotein. The use of the Gag particles in designing vaccines was investigated. Acting as non - infectious carriers of immunogenic antigens, the particles represent a safe and efficient means for presentation of epitopes for eliciting a protective immune response. Two possible approaches for loading the particles with foreign antigen were examined. In the first, the deleted portion of Gag was replaced with a sequence encoding the foreign antigen. The second method involved co - expression of Gag with another recombinant virus that expressed a foreign antigen on the surface of the cell. Both methods were found to be feasible, although limitations were identified when addition of the fusion protein promoted excess degradation of the Gag precursor.