Specific activation of HIV-1 by a bromodomain inhibitor from monocytic cells in humanized mice under ART in vivo [Virus-Cell Interactions]

The combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) effectively suppresses HIV-1 replication and enables HIV-infected individuals to live long productive lives. However, the persistence of HIV-1 reservoirs of both T and myeloid cells with latent or low-replicating HIV-1 in patients under cART makes HIV-1 infection an incurable disease. Recent studies have focused on the development of strategies to activate and purge these reservoirs. Bromodomain and extraterminal domain proteins (BETs) are epigenetic readers involved in modulating gene expression. Several bromodomain inhibitors (BETi) are reported to activate viral transcription in vitro in HIV-1 latency cell lines in a P-TEFb (CDK9/cyclin T1)-dependent manner. Little is known about the BETi efficacy in activating HIV-1 reservoir cells under cART in vivo. In this study, we report that a BETi (I-BET151) efficiently activated HIV-1 reservoirs under effective cART in humanized mice in vivo. Interestingly, I-BET151 during suppressive cART in vivo activated HIV-1 gene expression only in monocytic cells, but not in CD4+ T cells. We further demonstrate that BETi preferentially enhanced HIV-1 gene expression in monocytic cells than in T cells and, whereas CDK9 was involved in activating HIV-1 by I-BET151 in both monocytic and T cells, CDK2 enhanced HIV-1 transcription in monocytic cells but inhibited it in T cells. Our findings reveal a role of CDK2 in differential modulation of HIV-1 gene expression in myeloid cells and in T cells, and provides a novel strategy to reactivate monocytic reservoirs with BETi during cART.

IMPORTANCE Bromodomain inhibitors have been reported to activate HIV-1 transcription in vitro but their effect on activation of HIV-1 reservoirs during cART in vivo is unclear. We found that BETi (I-BET151) treatment reactivated HIV-1 gene expression in humanized mice during suppressive cART. Interestingly, I-BET151 preferentially reactivated HIV-1 gene expression in monocytic cells, but not in CD4 T cells in cART-treated mice. Furthermore, I-BET151 significantly increased HIV-1 transcription in monocytic cells, but not in HIV-1 infected CD4 T cells, via CDK2-dependent mechanisms. Our findings suggest that BETi can preferentially activate monocytic HIV-1 reservoir cells, and a combination of reservoir activation agents targeting different cell types and pathways is needed to achieve reactivation of different HIV-1 reservoir cells during cART.

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