The gp120 molecule of HIV-1 is a glycoprotein that is part of the outer layer of the virus. It presents itself as viral membrane spikes consisting of 3 molecules of gp120 linked together and anchored to the membrane by gp41 protein. Gp120 is essential for viral infection as it facilitates HIV entry into the host cell and this is its best-known and most researched role in HIV infection. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that gp120 might also be facilitating viral persistence and continuing HIV infection by influencing the T cell immune response to the virus. Several mechanisms might be involved in this process of which gp120 binding to the CD4 receptor of T cells is the best known and most important interaction as it facilitates viral entry into the CD4+ cells and their depletion, a hallmark of the HIV infection. Gp120 is shed from the viral membrane and accumulates in lymphoid tissues in significant amounts. Here, it can induce apoptosis and severely alter the immune response to the virus by dampening the antiviral CTL response thus impeding the clearance of HIV. The effects of gp120 and how it interacts and influences T cell immune response to the virus is an important topic and this review aims to summarize what has been published so far in hopes of providing guidance for future work in this area.
Keywords: Gp120, HIV, CD4+, CD8+, CTLs, viral escape, anergy, apoptosis
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