Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Irene Weber - Chair

Second Advisor

John Houghton

Third Advisor

Giovanni Gadda


HIV-1 protease (PR) inhibitors (PIs) are important anti-HIV drugs for the treatment of AIDS and have shown great success in reducing mortality and prolonging the life of HIV-infected individuals. However, the rapid development of drug resistance is one of the major factors causing the reduced effectiveness of PIs. Consequently, various drug resistant mutants of HIV-1 PR have been extensively studied to gain insight into the mechanisms of drug resistance. In this study, the crystal structures, dimer stabilities, and kinetics data have been analyzed for wild type PR and over 10 resistant mutants including PRL24I, PRI32V, PRM46L, PRG48V, PRI50V, PRF53L, PRI54V, PRI54M, PRG73S and PRL90M. These mutations lie in varied structural regions of PR: adjacent to the active site, in the inhibitor binding site, the flap or at protein surface. The enzymatic activity and inhibition were altered in mutant PR to various degrees. Crystal structures of the mutants complexed with a substrate analog inhibitor or drugs indinavir, saquinavir and darunavir were determined at resolutions of 0.84 – 1.50 Å. Each mutant revealed distinct structural changes, which are usually located at the mutated residue, the flap and inhibitor binding sites. Moreover, darunavir was shown to bind to PR at a new site on the flap surface in PRI32V and PRM46L. The existence of this additional inhibitor binding site may explain the high effectiveness of darunavir on drug resistant mutants. Moreover, the unliganded structure PRF53L had a wider separation at the tips of the flaps than in unliganded wild type PR. The absence of flap interactions in PRF53L suggests a novel mechanism for drug resistance. Therefore, this study enhanced our understanding of the role of individual residues in the development of drug resistance and the structural basis of drug resistance mechanisms. Atomic resolution crystal structures are valuable for the design of more potent protease inhibitors to overcome the drug resistance problem.

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