The envelope glycoprotein, gp160, of human (HIV) and simian (SIV) immunodeficiency viruses mediates virus-host cell binding followed by fusion of the viral and plasma membranes. The envelope proteins are known to exist as non-covalently associated oligomers on the virus surface. The production of permanent mammalian cell lines that constitutively secrete relatively high levels of soluble forms of SIV gp160 is described and we show that these proteins are secreted predominantly as tetramers with lower levels of dimer forms. Oligomeric forms were purified to greater than 90% purity using a simple gel filtration method. The purified proteins bind CD4 suggesting that they remain in their native conformation. The purified oligomeric proteins provide the basis for more relevant structural, functional and immunological studies than recombinant gp120 as they more closely resemble the envelope protein oligomer.


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