Gp36 is the virus envelope glycoproteins catalyzing the fusion of the feline immunodeficiency virus with the host cells. The peptide C8 is a tryptophan-rich peptide corresponding to the fragment 770W-I777 of gp36 exerting antiviral activity by binding the membrane cell and inhibiting the virus entry. Several factors, including the membrane surface charge, regulate the binding of C8 to the lipid membrane. Based on the evidence that imperceptible variation of membrane charge may induce a dramatic effect in several critical biological events, in the present work we investigate the effect induced by systematic variation of charge in phospholipid bilayers on the aptitude of C8 to interact with lipid membranes, the tendency of C8 to assume specific conformational states and the re-organization of the lipid bilayer upon the interaction with C8. Accordingly, employing a bottom-up multiscale protocol, including CD, NMR, ESR spectroscopy, atomistic molecular dynamics simulations, and confocal microscopy, we studied C8 in six membrane models composed of different ratios of zwitterionic/negatively charged phospholipids. Our data show that charge content modulates C8-membrane binding with significant effects on the peptide conformations. C8 in micelle solution or in SUV formed by DPC or DOPC zwitterionic phospholipids assumes regular β-turn structures that are progressively destabilized as the concentration of negatively charged SDS or DOPG phospholipids exceed 40%. Interaction of C8 with zwitterionic membrane surface is mediated by Trp1 and Trp4 that are deepened in the membrane, forming H-bonds and cation-π interactions with the DOPC polar heads. Additional stabilizing salt bridge interactions involve Glu2 and Asp3. MD and ESR data show that the C8-membrane affinity increases as the concentration of zwitterionic phospholipid increases. In the lipid membrane characterized by an excess of zwitterionic phospholipids, C8 is adsorbed at the membrane interface, inducing a stiffening of the outer region of the DOPC bilayer. However, the bound of C8 significantly perturbs the whole organization of lipid bilayer resulting in membrane remodeling. These events, measurable as a variation of the bilayer thickness, are the onset mechanism of the membrane fusion and vesicle tubulation observed in confocal microscopy by imaging zwitterionic MLVs in the presence of C8 peptide.
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