Lipid rafts are specialized regions of cell membranes enriched in cholesterol and sphingolipids that are involved in immune activation and signaling. Studies in T-cells indicate that these membrane domains serve as sites for release of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). By budding through lipid rafts in T-cells, HIV selectively incorporates raft markers and excludes non-raft proteins. This process has been well studied in T-cells, but it is unknown whether lipid rafts serve as budding sites for HIV in macrophages. Recently, we proposed a new model of retroviral biogenesis called the Trojan exosome hypothesis (Gould, S. J., Booth, A., and Hildreth, J. E. K. (2003) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 100, 10592-10597). This model proposes that retroviruses coopt the existing cellular machinery for exosomal release. Here, we performed the first test designed to differentiate between the lipid raft hypothesis of retroviral biogenesis and the Trojan exosome hypothesis. Using macrophages, we examined the relative abundance of several host proteins on the cell surface, in lipid rafts, and on both HIV particles and exosomes derived from these cells. Our results show significant differences in the abundance of host proteins on the cell surface and in HIV. Moreover, our data demonstrate discordance in the abundance of some proteins in lipid rafts and in HIV. Finally, our data reveal a strong concordance between the host cell protein profile of exosomes and that of HIV. These results strongly support the Trojan exosome hypothesis and its prediction that retroviral budding represents exploitation of a pre-existing cellular pathway of intercellular vesicle trafficking.
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