The HIV Env glycoprotein is the surface glycoprotein responsible for viral entry into CD41 immune cells. During infection, Env also serves as a primary target for antibody responses, which are robust but unable to control virus replication. Immune evasion by HIV-1 Env appears to employ complex mechanisms to regulate what antigenic states are presented to the immune system. Immunodominant features appear to be distinct from epitopes that interfere with Env functions in mediating infection. Further, cell-cell transmission studies indicate that vulnerable conformational states are additionally hidden from recognition on infected cells, even though the presence of Env at the cell surface is required for viral infection through the virological synapse. Cell-cell infection studies support that Env on infected cells is presented in distinct conformations from that on virus particles. Here we review data regarding the regulation of conformational states of Env and assess how regulated sorting of Env within the infected cell may underlie mechanisms to distinguish Env on the surface of virus particles versus Env on the surface of infected cells. These mechanisms may allow infected cells to avoid opsonization, providing cell-tocell infection by HIV with a selective advantage during evolution within an infected individual. Understanding how distinct Env conformations are presented on cells versus viruses may be essential to designing effective vaccine approaches and therapeutic strategies to clear infected cell reservoirs.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • Env
  • HIV
  • conformation
  • endocytosis
  • envelope
  • neutralizing antibodies
  • protein trafficking
  • virological synapse


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