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HIV-1 initiates infection by merging its envelope membrane with the target cell membrane, a process that is mediated by the viral Env glycoprotein following its sequential binding to CD4 and coreceptors, CXCR4 or CCR5. Although HIV-1 fusion has been a target for antiviral therapy, the virus has developed resistance to drugs blocking the CCR5 binding or Env refolding steps of this process. This highlights the need for novel inhibitors. Here, we adapted and optimized an enzymatic HIV-cell fusion assay, which reports the transfer of virus-encapsulated β-lactamase into the cytoplasm, to high-throughput screening (HTS) with a 384-well format. The assay was robustly performed in HTS format and was validated by the pilot screen of a small library of pharmacologically active compounds. Several hits identified by screening included a prominent cluster of purinergic receptor antagonists. Functional studies demonstrated that P2X1 receptor antagonists selectively inhibited HIV-1 fusion without affecting the fusion activity of an unrelated virus that enters cells through an endocytic route. The inhibition of HIV-cell fusion by P2X1 antagonists was not through downmodulation of the cell surface expression of CD4 or coreceptors, thus implicating P2X1 receptor in the HIV-1 fusion step. The ability of these antagonists to inhibit viruses regardless of their coreceptor (CXCR4 or CCR5) preference indicates that fusion is blocked at a late step downstream of coreceptor binding. A future large-scale screening campaign for HIV-1 fusion inhibitors, using the above functional readout, will likely reveal novel classes of inhibitors and suggest potential targets for antiviral therapy.

Original publication




Journal article


Assay Drug Dev Technol

Publication Date





155 - 166


Cell Fusion, Cell Line, Cell Survival, Dose-Response Relationship, Drug, Drug Discovery, HIV Fusion Inhibitors, HIV-1, HeLa Cells, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Humans, Purinergic P2X Receptor Antagonists, Structure-Activity Relationship, Virus Internalization