GFP-Vpr labeled HIV-1 virions have provided a method to visually examine the interactions between the virus and target cell during infection. However, existing methods to discriminate between virions that have been non-specifically endocytosed from those that have productively entered the host cell cytoplasm have remained problematic. Therefore, we examined the ability of a series of membrane-targeted fluorescent fusion protein constructs to be incorporated into virions. We find that a fluorescent protein fusion targeted to the plasma membrane by the addition of the N-terminal 15 amino acid sequence of c-Src (S15) is efficiently packaged into HIV virions. Using fluorescent proteins fused to this sequence, we have generated virions dually labeled with S15-mCherry and GFP-Vpr. Importantly, we can detect the loss of this S15-mCherry membrane signal following fusion. After infection with VSV-g pseudotyped HIV virions, we find a measurable, specific loss of membrane label during infection. This loss of fluorescence is not observed when fusion is prevented using bafilomycin A. This increased ability to discriminate between non-productively endocytosed virions and those actively undergoing steps in the infectious process will facilitate efforts to examine early steps in infection microscopically.
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