A major problem in the chemotherapy of HIV-1 infection is the appearance of drug resistance. In the case of HIV-1 protease inhibitors, resistance originates from mutations in the protease molecule that lower the affinity of inhibitors while still maintaining a viable enzymatic profile. Drug resistance mutations can be classified as active site or non-active site mutations depending on their location within the protease molecule. Active site mutations directly affect drug/target interactions, and their action can be readily understood in structural terms. Non-active site mutations influence binding from distal locations, and their mechanism of action is not immediately apparent. In this paper, we have characterized a mutant form of the HIV-1 protease, ANAM-11, identified in clinical isolates from HIV-1 infected patients treated with protease inhibitors. This mutant protease contains 11 mutations, 10 of which are located outside the active site (L10I/M36I/S37D/M46I/R57K/L63P/A71V/G73S/L90M/I93L) and 1 within the active site (I84V). ANAM-11 lowers the binding affinity of indinavir, nelfinavir, saquinavir, and ritonavir by factors of 4000, 3300, 5800, and 80000, respectively. Surprisingly, most of the loss in inhibitor affinity is due to the non-active site mutations as demonstrated by additional experiments performed with a protease containing only the 10 non-active site mutations (NAM-10) and another containing only the active site mutation (A-1). Kinetic analysis with two different substrates yielded comparable catalytic efficiencies for A-1, ANAM-11, NAM-10, and the wild-type protease. These studies demonstrate that non-active site mutations can be the primary source of resistance and that their role is not necessarily limited to compensate deleterious effects of active site mutations. Analysis of the structural stability of the proteases by differential scanning calorimetry reveals that ANAM-11 and NAM-10 are structurally more stable than the wild-type protease while A-1 is less stable. Together, the binding and structural thermodynamic results suggest that the non-active site mutants affect inhibitor binding by altering the geometry of the binding site cavity through the accumulation of mutations within the core of the protease molecule.
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