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1.  Dendritic Cell-induced Activation of Latent HIV-1 Provirus in Actively Proliferating Primary T Lymphocytes 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(3):e1003259.
HIV-1 latency remains a formidable barrier towards virus eradication as therapeutic attempts to purge these reservoirs are so far unsuccessful. The pool of transcriptionally silent proviruses is established early in infection and persists for a lifetime, even when viral loads are suppressed below detection levels using anti-retroviral therapy. Upon therapy interruption the reservoir can re-establish systemic infection. Different cellular reservoirs that harbor latent provirus have been described. In this study we demonstrate that HIV-1 can also establish a silent integration in actively proliferating primary T lymphocytes. Co-culturing of these proliferating T lymphocytes with dendritic cells (DCs) activated the provirus from latency. Activation did not involve DC-mediated C-type lectin DC-SIGN signaling or TCR-stimulation but was mediated by DC-secreted component(s) and cell-cell interaction between DC and T lymphocyte that could be inhibited by blocking ICAM-1 dependent adhesion. These results imply that circulating DCs could purge HIV-1 from latency and re-initiate virus replication. Moreover, our data show that viral latency can be established early after infection and supports the idea that actively proliferating T lymphocytes with an effector phenotype contribute to the latent viral reservoir. Unraveling this physiologically relevant purging mechanism could provide useful information for the development of new therapeutic strategies that aim at the eradication of HIV-1 reservoirs.
Author Summary
Combination therapy can suppress the viral load in HIV-1 infected individuals to undetectable levels, but does not lead to complete virus eradication. Even after many years of successful therapy the virus is still present in long-lived cells as a latently integrated provirus. HIV-1 can re-establish systemic infection from this reservoir when therapy stops. Purging attempts in patients have been unsuccessful and HIV-1 latency remains a formidable barrier to virus eradication. Different cellular reservoirs that harbor latent HIV-1 proviruses have been described to consist mainly of resting memory T lymphocytes. Yet how this reservoir in memory T lymphocytes is established is still unclear as infection of these cells is very inefficient. In this paper we demonstrate that HIV-1 can establish a latent provirus in activated effector T lymphocytes. We observed that for every virus producing cell there is at least one other cell harboring a latent provirus, illustrating that latent infections occur frequently. Proliferating T lymphocytes are generally short-lived and their contribution to the total cellular reservoir thus seems limited. However, these activated T lymphocytes can revert into resting memory T lymphocytes and become part of the long-lived viral reservoir.
PMCID: PMC3605277  PMID: 23555263
2.  Targeted Killing of Virally Infected Cells by Radiolabeled Antibodies to Viral Proteins 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(11):e427.
The HIV epidemic is a major threat to health in the developing and western worlds. A modality that targets and kills HIV-1-infected cells could have a major impact on the treatment of acute exposure and the elimination of persistent reservoirs of infected cells. The aim of this proof-of-principle study was to demonstrate the efficacy of a therapeutic strategy of targeting and eliminating HIV-1-infected cells with radiolabeled antibodies specific to viral proteins in vitro and in vivo.
Methods and Findings
Antibodies to HIV-1 envelope glycoproteins gp120 and gp41 labeled with radioisotopes bismuth 213 (213Bi) and rhenium 188 (188Re) selectively killed chronically HIV-1-infected human T cells and acutely HIV-1-infected human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (hPBMCs) in vitro. Treatment of severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) mice harboring HIV-1-infected hPBMCs in their spleens with a 213Bi- or 188Re-labeled monoclonal antibody (mAb) to gp41 resulted in a 57% injected dose per gram uptake of radiolabeled mAb in the infected spleens and in a greater than 99% elimination of HIV-1-infected cells in a dose-dependent manner. The number of HIV-1-infected thymocytes decreased 2.5-fold in the human thymic implant grafts of SCID mice treated with the 188Re-labeled antibody to gp41 compared with those treated with the 188Re-control mAb. The treatment did not cause acute hematologic toxicity in the treated mice.
The current study demonstrates the effectiveness of HIV-targeted radioimmunotherapy and may provide a novel treatment option in combination with highly active antiretroviral therapy for the eradication of HIV.
In vitro data and results in mice suggest that HIV-targeted radioimmunotherapy is potentially safe and effective and may provide a strategy toward eradication of HIV in infected patients.
Editors' Summary
In a person infected with HIV, the symptoms of AIDS can be delayed or controlled with drug combinations such as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). However, at the moment there is no cure for HIV infection or AIDS; HAART has to be taken for life and has unpleasant side effects, and the HIV virus can become resistant to some of the drugs. Even in people for whom HAART is successfully controlling disease, HIV remains at very low levels in white blood cells, and is capable of infecting more cells if treatment is stopped for some reason or becomes ineffective because the virus has developed resistance. One possible approach that could potentially eradicate HIV in an infected person is to inject antibodies, targeted against elements of the HIV particle, joined to a radioactive “tag.” The idea is that the antibodies would bind to HIV particles at the surface of infected white blood cells, and the radioactivity would then kill the infected cell. This strategy, called “radioimmunotherapy,” has been successfully used to develop treatments for certain cancers.
Why Was This Study Done?
The researchers wanted to find out whether radioimmunotherapy had any potential for treating HIV infection. As the first step, they needed to find out whether radioactive antibodies targeted against HIV proteins could kill HIV infected cells in animals, and also whether the animals suffered any serious side effects as a result. This is an early step in developing new treatments that would need to show promising results before the approach would be tried in humans.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers first did some experiments on HIV-infected white blood cells in vitro (i.e., test tube experiments), and second in vivo on HIV-infected PBMCs in the spleens of mice. They found that in vitro, HIV-infected white blood cells were successfully killed by radioactive antibodies that had been developed against specific proteins in the HIV particle that are routinely displayed at the surface of infected cells. Two different types of antibody, and two different types of radioactive tag, were tried. Both antibodies were very effective in targeting HIV infected cells, but one type of radioactive tag (bismuth 213) was better than the other (rhenium 188). Then, SCID mice were infected intrasplenically with HIV-infected PBMCs and treated with the radioactively tagged antibodies (these particular mice had a deficient immune system, which means that they tolerate transplanted HIV-infected human PBMCs that serve as in vivo targets for the radioactive antibodies. The number of HIV-infected human PBMCs was reduced in the treated mice compared with control animals, which were treated with antibodies not joined to a radioactive tag. The greater the antibody dose, the greater the proportion of HIV-infected human PBMC that were killed. Finally, the researchers also looked at whether the antibody treatment damaged platelets in the infected mice, and they saw a drop in platelet numbers only for the mice receiving the highest dose of antibodies.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results provide preliminary support for the idea that radioimmunotherapy might be an approach for treatment of HIV. They argue that additional experiments in animals are warranted. If those continue to be promising, it will be critical to find out whether the radioactively labeled antibodies are safe in humans, and whether they are effective. The researchers who did this study feel that the strategy, if eventually shown to be safe and effective, would likely be of most value in preventing HIV infection very shortly after someone is exposed to the virus or treating HIV-infected patients not responsive to anti-retroviral therapy.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The Medline Plus (provided by the US National Library of Medicine) encyclopedia has an entry on HIV/AIDS
The AIDSMap provides patient information on HIV/AIDS treatment and care
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has resources on HIV/AIDS treatment, including current treatment guidelines
PMCID: PMC1630718  PMID: 17090209
3.  Viral and Latent Reservoir Persistence in HIV-1–Infected Patients on Therapy 
PLoS Computational Biology  2006;2(10):e135.
Despite many years of potent antiretroviral therapy, latently infected cells and low levels of plasma virus have been found to persist in HIV-infected patients. The factors influencing this persistence and their relative contributions have not been fully elucidated and remain controversial. Here, we address these issues by developing and employing a simple, but mechanistic viral dynamics model. The model has two novel features. First, it assumes that latently infected T cells can undergo bystander proliferation without transitioning into active viral production. Second, it assumes that the rate of latent cell activation decreases with time on antiretroviral therapy due to the activation and subsequent loss of latently infected cells specific for common antigens, leaving behind cells that are successively less frequently activated. Using the model, we examined the quantitative contributions of T cell bystander proliferation, latent cell activation, and ongoing viral replication to the stability of the latent reservoir and persisting low-level viremia. Not surprisingly, proliferation of latently infected cells helped maintain the latent reservoir in spite of loss of latent infected cells through activation and death, and affected viral dynamics to an extent that depended on the magnitude of latent cell activation. In the limit of zero latent cell activation, the latent cell pool and viral load became uncoupled. However, as the activation rate increased, the plasma viral load could be maintained without depleting the latent reservoir, even in the absence of viral replication. The influence of ongoing viral replication on the latent reservoir remained insignificant for drug efficacies above the “critical efficacy” irrespective of the activation rate. However, for lower drug efficacies viral replication enabled the stable maintenance of both the latent reservoir and the virus. Our model and analysis methods provide a quantitative and qualitative framework for probing how different viral and host factors contribute to the dynamics of the latent reservoir and the virus, offering new insights into the principal determinants of their persistence.
Antiretroviral therapy has greatly reduced the mortality of HIV-infected patients. However, even after a decade of suppressive therapy, low levels of virus and latent viral reservoirs persist. Flushing out these reservoirs is a major hurdle that remains to be overcome by anti-HIV therapy. Despite many years of extensive studies, we still lack quantitative understanding of the factors that maintain viral reservoirs and prevent a cure of HIV infection. In this paper, Kim and Perelson develop a novel mathematical model that incorporates the possibility that latently infected cells, like other memory cells, undergo bystander proliferation without being activated. Using the model, they show that T cell bystander proliferation, combined with latent cell activation, enables the stable maintenance of both the latent reservoir and the virus, even in the absence of viral replication. Further, they show that the influence of ongoing viral replication on maintaining the latent reservoir remains relatively insignificant for a range of high drug efficacies. Their results suggest that if the long-term persistence of the latent reservoir results principally from the intrinsic stability of CD4+ T cell memory, increasing the potency of anti-HIV therapies may not be sufficient to eradicate HIV.
PMCID: PMC1599767  PMID: 17040122
4.  Histone Deacetylase Inhibitor Romidepsin Induces HIV Expression in CD4 T Cells from Patients on Suppressive Antiretroviral Therapy at Concentrations Achieved by Clinical Dosing 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(4):e1004071.
Persistent latent reservoir of replication-competent proviruses in memory CD4 T cells is a major obstacle to curing HIV infection. Pharmacological activation of HIV expression in latently infected cells is being explored as one of the strategies to deplete the latent HIV reservoir. In this study, we characterized the ability of romidepsin (RMD), a histone deacetylase inhibitor approved for the treatment of T-cell lymphomas, to activate the expression of latent HIV. In an in vitro T-cell model of HIV latency, RMD was the most potent inducer of HIV (EC50 = 4.5 nM) compared with vorinostat (VOR; EC50 = 3,950 nM) and other histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors in clinical development including panobinostat (PNB; EC50 = 10 nM). The HIV induction potencies of RMD, VOR, and PNB paralleled their inhibitory activities against multiple human HDAC isoenzymes. In both resting and memory CD4 T cells isolated from HIV-infected patients on suppressive combination antiretroviral therapy (cART), a 4-hour exposure to 40 nM RMD induced a mean 6-fold increase in intracellular HIV RNA levels, whereas a 24-hour treatment with 1 µM VOR resulted in 2- to 3-fold increases. RMD-induced intracellular HIV RNA expression persisted for 48 hours and correlated with sustained inhibition of cell-associated HDAC activity. By comparison, the induction of HIV RNA by VOR and PNB was transient and diminished after 24 hours. RMD also increased levels of extracellular HIV RNA and virions from both memory and resting CD4 T-cell cultures. The activation of HIV expression was observed at RMD concentrations below the drug plasma levels achieved by doses used in patients treated for T-cell lymphomas. In conclusion, RMD induces HIV expression ex vivo at concentrations that can be achieved clinically, indicating that the drug may reactivate latent HIV in patients on suppressive cART.
Author Summary
Combination antiretroviral therapy has greatly improved the clinical outcome of HIV infection treatment. However, latent viral reservoirs established primarily in memory CD4 T cells persist even after long periods of suppressive antiretroviral therapy, which hinders the ability to achieve a prolonged drug-free remission or a cure of the HIV infection. Activation of HIV expression from latent reservoirs is a part of proposed strategies that may potentially lead to virus elimination and ultimately cure of the infection. In this study, we show that romidepsin, a histone deacetylase inhibitor approved for the treatment of T-cell lymphomas, is a potent activator of HIV expression in an in vitro model of viral latency as well as ex vivo in resting and memory CD4 T cells isolated from HIV-infected patients with suppressed viremia. Importantly, the ex vivo activation of latent HIV occurred at romidepsin concentrations lower than those achieved in drug-treated lymphoma patients. In addition, romidepsin exhibited a more potent effect than other drugs in the same class that have already been shown to activate HIV expression in vivo. Together, these results support the clinical assessment of romidepsin in HIV-infected patients on suppressive antiretroviral therapy.
PMCID: PMC3983056  PMID: 24722454
5.  Limits on Replenishment of the Resting CD4+ T Cell Reservoir for HIV in Patients on HAART 
PLoS Pathogens  2007;3(8):e122.
Whereas cells productively infected with human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) decay rapidly in the setting of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), latently infected resting CD4+ T cells decay very slowly, persisting for the lifetime of the patient and thus forming a stable reservoir for HIV-1. It has been suggested that the stability of the latent reservoir is due to low-level viral replication that continuously replenishes the reservoir despite HAART. Here, we offer the first quantitative study to our knowledge of inflow of newly infected cells into the latent reservoir due to viral replication in the setting of HAART. We make use of a previous observation that in some patients on HAART, the residual viremia is dominated by a predominant plasma clone (PPC) of HIV-1 not found in the latent reservoir. The unique sequence of the PPC serves as a functional label for new entries into the reservoir. We employ a simple mathematical model for the dynamics of the latent reservoir to constrain the inflow rate to between 0 and as few as 70 cells per day. The magnitude of the maximum daily inflow rate is small compared to the size of the latent reservoir, and therefore any inflow that occurs in patients on HAART is unlikely to significantly influence the decay rate of the reservoir. These results suggest that the stability of the latent reservoir is unlikely to arise from ongoing replication during HAART. Thus, intensification of standard HAART regimens should have minimal effects on the decay of the latent reservoir.
Author Summary
Latently infected resting CD4+ T cells represent a stable reservoir for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). When HIV-infected individuals are treated with highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), this latent reservoir decays slowly, with a half-life of up to 44 months. As a result, latently infected resting CD4+ T cells represent the major known barrier to eradication of HIV infection. Two factors are believed to contribute to the stability of the latent reservoir in the setting of HAART: replenishment by low-level viral replication and the intrinsic stability of resting memory CD4+ T cells. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to measure replenishment of this latent reservoir. In this study, we take advantage of a cohort of patients on HAART whose plasma virus consists largely of one (patient-specific) predominant plasma clone (PPC) that is grossly underrepresented in resting CD4+ T cells. We use the PPC as a label for ongoing viral replication by observing the accumulation of the PPC in resting CD4+ T cells over time in each patient. Analysis of the rate at which the PPC accumulates in resting CD4+ T cells allows us to quantitatively infer the maximum inflow of cells into the latent reservoir for HIV. Thus, we are able to provide the first quantitative constraint to our knowledge on the replenishment rate of the latent reservoir in the setting of HAART. Our results indicate that the rate of replenishment is very small and likely not a source of stability in the setting of HAART. These results have important implications regarding therapeutic options for purging the resting CD4+ T cell reservoir and curing HIV infection. Specifically, these results suggest that the intrinsic stability of latently infected resting CD4+ T cells, and not low-level viral replication, must be targeted therapeutically in order to achieve eradication of the latent reservoir.
PMCID: PMC1959378  PMID: 17784786
6.  The Effect of Raltegravir Intensification on Low-level Residual Viremia in HIV-Infected Patients on Antiretroviral Therapy: A Randomized Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(8):e1000321.
In a double-blind trial, Rajesh Gandhi and colleagues detect no significant reduction in viral load after people with low-level HIV viremia added an integrase inhibitor to their treatment regimen.
Most HIV-1-infected patients on effective antiretroviral therapy (ART) with plasma HIV-1 RNA levels below the detection limits of commercial assays have residual viremia measurable by more sensitive methods. We assessed whether adding raltegravir lowered the level of residual viremia in such patients.
Methods and Findings
Patients receiving ART who had plasma HIV-1 RNA levels below 50 copies/mL but detectable viremia by single copy assay (SCA) were randomized to add either raltegravir or placebo to their ART regimen for 12 weeks; patients then crossed-over to the other therapy for an additional 12 weeks while continuing pre-study ART. The primary endpoint was the plasma HIV-1 RNA by SCA averaged between weeks 10 and 12 (10/12) compared between treatment groups. Fifty-three patients were enrolled. The median screening HIV-1 RNA was 1.7 copies/mL. The HIV-1 RNA level at weeks 10/12 did not differ significantly between the raltegravir-intensified (n = 25) and the placebo (n = 24) groups (median 1.2 versus 1.7 copies/mL, p = 0.55, Wilcoxon rank sum test), nor did the change in HIV-1 RNA level from baseline to week 10/12 (median −0.2 and −0.1 copies/mL, p = 0.71, Wilcoxon rank sum test). There was also no significant change in HIV-1 RNA level from weeks 10/12 to weeks 22/24 after patients crossed-over. There was a greater CD4 cell count increase from baseline to week 12 in the raltegravir-intensified group compared with the placebo group (+42 versus −44 cells/mm3, p = 0.082, Wilcoxon rank sum test), which reversed after the cross-over. This CD4 cell count change was not associated with an effect of raltegravir intensification on markers of CD4 or CD8 cell activation in blood.
In this randomized, double-blind cross-over study, 12 weeks of raltegravir intensification did not demonstrably reduce low-level plasma viremia in patients on currently recommended ART. This finding suggests that residual viremia does not arise from ongoing cycles of HIV-1 replication and infection of new cells. New therapeutic strategies to eliminate reservoirs that produce residual viremia will be required to eradicate HIV-1 infection.
Trial Registration NCT00515827
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has killed about 25 million people since 1981 and more than 30 million people are now infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. HIV is a retrovirus—its genetic blueprint is made of ribonucleic acid (RNA). HIV infects human immune system cells and destroys them, leaving infected individuals susceptible to other infections. Early during the AIDS epidemic, most HIV-positive people died within ten years of infection. Then, in 1996, effective antiretroviral therapy (ART) was developed. ART consists of combinations of drugs that prevent viral replication by inhibiting essential viral enzymes such as reverse transcriptase (the enzyme that makes a DNA copy of the viral RNA; a viral enzyme called integrase inserts this DNA copy into the host cell DNA where it remains dormant until the host cell is activated) and protease (an enzyme needed for the production of new viral particles, which are released into the blood stream). Now, in industrialized countries, the life expectancy of HIV-infected patients treated with ART is similar to that of people with diabetes and other chronic conditions.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although ART can reduce the number of viral RNA copies in the plasma (the liquid portion of blood) of HIV-positive patients to less than 50 copies/mL (the limit of detection of commercial assays), it is does not eradicate HIV. When very sensitive assays are used to detect viral RNA (for example, the “single copy assay” or SCA), most patients on ART have one copy or more of HIV RNA per mL of plasma. The origin of this low-level residual viremia (virus in the blood) is controversial. Residual viremia could arise from ongoing cycles of viral replication, in which case intensification of ART should reduce it. Alternatively, residual viremia could be due to HIV release from stable reservoirs such as latently infected resting immune system cells, in which case intensification of ART should have no effect on residual viremia. In this randomized, controlled trial (a study in which randomly selected groups of patients are given different treatments and the effects of these treatments compared), the researchers assess whether the addition of raltegravir (a drug that inhibits HIV integrase) to standard ART has any effect on residual viremia.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled 53 HIV-positive patients who had been receiving ART containing several reverse transcriptase inhibitors and, in some cases, a protease inhibitor for at least 12 months and who had a plasma HIV RNA level below 50 copies/mL but detectable viremia by SCA. The patients were randomly assigned to receive either raltegravir or a dummy drug (placebo) in addition to their normal ART for 12 weeks. They were then crossed-over (swapped) to the other therapy for a further 12 weeks. At baseline, the trial participants had an average plasma HIV RNA level of 1.7 copies/mL. The HIV RNA level at weeks 10/12 (the average of SCA results at 10 and 12 weeks) was similar in the raltegravir group and in the placebo group and did not differ significantly from this baseline level. There was also no significant change in plasma HIV RNA levels from weeks 10/12 to weeks 22/24 after the patients crossed-over between treatment groups.
What Do These Findings Mean?
In this randomized, cross-over study, raltegravir intensification of ART for 12 weeks did not demonstrably reduce low-level residual viremia in HIV-positive patients receiving standard ART. It is possible that 12 weeks is too short a time to see an effect of raltegravir on residual viremia. Furthermore, although this is one of the biggest trials of this type done to date, it might be that insufficient patients were included in the trial to detect a subtle effect of raltegravir on residual viremia. Nevertheless, these findings argue against the hypothesis that residual viremia arises from ongoing cycles of viral replication and the infection of new cells. Instead, they suggest that residual viremia might be due to the release of HIV from stable reservoirs. If so, new therapeutic strategies designed to eliminate these reservoirs of latently infected cells will be required to cure HIV infection.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and infectious diseases on HIV infection and AIDS, and on the treatment of HIV
HIV InSite has comprehensive information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on antiretroviral therapies
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including the treatment of HIV and AIDS (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus has links to further resources on AIDS and on AIDS medicines (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC2919424  PMID: 20711481
7.  CpG Methylation Controls Reactivation of HIV from Latency 
PLoS Pathogens  2009;5(8):e1000554.
DNA methylation of retroviral promoters and enhancers localized in the provirus 5′ long terminal repeat (LTR) is considered to be a mechanism of transcriptional suppression that allows retroviruses to evade host immune responses and antiretroviral drugs. However, the role of DNA methylation in the control of HIV-1 latency has never been unambiguously demonstrated, in contrast to the apparent importance of transcriptional interference and chromatin structure, and has never been studied in HIV-1-infected patients. Here, we show in an in vitro model of reactivable latency and in a latent reservoir of HIV-1-infected patients that CpG methylation of the HIV-1 5′ LTR is an additional epigenetic restriction mechanism, which controls resistance of latent HIV-1 to reactivation signals and thus determines the stability of the HIV-1 latency. CpG methylation acts as a late event during establishment of HIV-1 latency and is not required for the initial provirus silencing. Indeed, the latent reservoir of some aviremic patients contained high proportions of the non-methylated 5′ LTR. The latency controlled solely by transcriptional interference and by chromatin-dependent mechanisms in the absence of significant promoter DNA methylation tends to be leaky and easily reactivable. In the latent reservoir of HIV-1-infected individuals without detectable plasma viremia, we found HIV-1 promoters and enhancers to be hypermethylated and resistant to reactivation, as opposed to the hypomethylated 5′ LTR in viremic patients. However, even dense methylation of the HIV-1 5′LTR did not confer complete resistance to reactivation of latent HIV-1 with some histone deacetylase inhibitors, protein kinase C agonists, TNF-α, and their combinations with 5-aza-2deoxycytidine: the densely methylated HIV-1 promoter was most efficiently reactivated in virtual absence of T cell activation by suberoylanilide hydroxamic acid. Tight but incomplete control of HIV-1 latency by CpG methylation might have important implications for strategies aimed at eradicating HIV-1 infection.
Author Summary
Despite the potency of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) to decrease the HIV-1 load and to reduce mortality due to HIV-1 infection, HIV-1 establishes latent infection resistant to host immune responses and antiretroviral therapy. HIV-1 latency is thus the main obstacle to the eradication of the virus from infected patients. CpG methylation is a mechanism which contributes to transcriptional silencing. The role of proviral DNA methylation in HIV-1 latency has not been clearly demonstrated and has never been studied in HIV-1-infected patients. We found in an in vitro model and in HIV-1-infected patients that CpG methylation of the HIV-1 promoter is important for the maintenance but not for the establishment of HIV-1 latency. We show that tight control of HIV-1 latency by CpG methylation could be a key barrier to purging the reservoir of latently infected cells in infected individuals. Although our study shows the difficulty in reactivation of HIV-1 with the heavily methylated promoter/enhancer sequences from latently infected cells, it also indicates that addition of some histone deacetylase inhibitors (namely suberoylanilide hydroxamic acid, SAHA) and cytosine methylation inhibitors would represent an important part of HAART protocols in the future.
PMCID: PMC2722084  PMID: 19696893
8.  Modeling Latently Infected Cell Activation: Viral and Latent Reservoir Persistence, and Viral Blips in HIV-infected Patients on Potent Therapy 
PLoS Computational Biology  2009;5(10):e1000533.
Although potent combination therapy is usually able to suppress plasma viral loads in HIV-1 patients to below the detection limit of conventional clinical assays, a low level of viremia frequently can be detected in plasma by more sensitive assays. Additionally, many patients experience transient episodes of viremia above the detection limit, termed viral blips, even after being on highly suppressive therapy for many years. An obstacle to viral eradication is the persistence of a latent reservoir for HIV-1 in resting memory CD4+ T cells. The mechanisms underlying low viral load persistence, slow decay of the latent reservoir, and intermittent viral blips are not fully characterized. The quantitative contributions of residual viral replication to viral and the latent reservoir persistence remain unclear. In this paper, we probe these issues by developing a mathematical model that considers latently infected cell activation in response to stochastic antigenic stimulation. We demonstrate that programmed expansion and contraction of latently infected cells upon immune activation can generate both low-level persistent viremia and intermittent viral blips. Also, a small fraction of activated T cells revert to latency, providing a potential to replenish the latent reservoir. By this means, occasional activation of latently infected cells can explain the variable decay characteristics of the latent reservoir observed in different clinical studies. Finally, we propose a phenomenological model that includes a logistic term representing homeostatic proliferation of latently infected cells. The model is simple but can robustly generate the multiphasic viral decline seen after initiation of therapy, as well as low-level persistent viremia and intermittent HIV-1 blips. Using these models, we provide a quantitative and integrated prospective into the long-term dynamics of HIV-1 and the latent reservoir in the setting of potent antiretroviral therapy.
Author Summary
Current combination therapy can suppress viral loads in HIV-1-infected individuals to below the detection limit of standard commercial assays. However, it cannot eradicate the virus from patients. HIV-1 can generally be identified in resting memory CD4+ T cells and persists in patients on potent treatment for a long time. These latently infected cells decay slowly, but can produce new virions when activated by relevant antigens. Many patients experience transient episodes of viremia, or blips, even though they have “undetectable” plasma viral loads for many years. Here, we develop a new mathematical model describing latently infected cell activation upon random antigenic stimulation. Using the model, we show that programmed expansion and contraction of latently infected cells upon activation can generate both low viral load persistence and viral blips. Occasional replenishment of the latent reservoir may explain the different decay kinetics of the reservoir observed in clinical practice. We also show that a model with homeostatic proliferation of latently infected cells can explain persistence of low-level virus, stability of the latent reservoir, and emergence of viral blips. These results provide novel insights into the long-term virus dynamics and could have implications for the treatment of HIV-1 infection.
PMCID: PMC2752194  PMID: 19834532
9.  Dual Role of Novel Ingenol Derivatives from Euphorbia tirucalli in HIV Replication: Inhibition of De Novo Infection and Activation of Viral LTR 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(5):e97257.
HIV infection is not cleared by antiretroviral drugs due to the presence of latently infected cells that are not eliminated with current therapies and persist in the blood and organs of infected patients. New compounds to activate these latent reservoirs have been evaluated so that, along with HAART, they can be used to activate latent virus and eliminate the latently infected cells resulting in eradication of viral infection. Here we describe three novel diterpenes isolated from the sap of Euphorbia tirucalli, a tropical shrub. These molecules, identified as ingenols, were modified at carbon 3 and termed ingenol synthetic derivatives (ISD). They activated the HIV-LTR in reporter cell lines and human PBMCs with latent virus in concentrations as low as 10 nM. ISDs were also able to inhibit the replication of HIV-1 subtype B and C in MT-4 cells and human PBMCs at concentrations of EC50 0.02 and 0.09 µM respectively, which are comparable to the EC50 of some antiretroviral currently used in AIDS treatment. Control of viral replication may be caused by downregulation of surface CD4, CCR5 and CXCR4 observed after ISD treatment in vitro. These compounds appear to be less cytotoxic than other diterpenes such as PMA and prostratin, with effective dose versus toxic dose TI>400. Although the mechanisms of action of the three ISDs are primarily attributed to the PKC pathway, downregulation of surface receptors and stimulation of the viral LTR might be differentially modulated by different PKC isoforms.
PMCID: PMC4020785  PMID: 24827152
10.  Rapid Quantification of the Latent Reservoir for HIV-1 Using a Viral Outgrowth Assay 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(5):e1003398.
HIV-1 persists in infected individuals in a stable pool of resting CD4+ T cells as a latent but replication-competent provirus. This latent reservoir is the major barrier to the eradication of HIV-1. Clinical trials are currently underway investigating the effects of latency-disrupting compounds on the persistence of the latent reservoir in infected individuals. To accurately assess the effects of such compounds, accurate assays to measure the frequency of latently infected cells are essential. The development of a simpler assay for the latent reservoir has been identified as a major AIDS research priority. We report here the development and validation of a rapid viral outgrowth assay that quantifies the frequency of cells that can release replication-competent virus following cellular activation. This new assay utilizes bead and column-based purification of resting CD4+ T cells from the peripheral blood of HIV-1 infected patients rather than cell sorting to obtain comparable resting CD4+ T cell purity. This new assay also utilizes the MOLT-4/CCR5 cell line for viral expansion, producing statistically comparable measurements of the frequency of latent HIV-1 infection. Finally, this new assay employs a novel quantitative RT-PCR specific for polyadenylated HIV-1 RNA for virus detection, which we demonstrate is a more sensitive and cost-effective method to detect HIV-1 replication than expensive commercial ELISA detection methods. The reductions in both labor and cost make this assay suitable for quantifying the frequency of latently infected cells in clinical trials of HIV-1 eradication strategies.
Author Summary
The eradication of HIV-1 from infected individuals is stymied by the persistence of the virus in a stable reservoir of latently infected CD4+ T cells. Latently infected cells can be found in all HIV-1 infected individuals at a very low frequency and allow the virus to persist despite antiretroviral therapy for the lifetime of an infected patient. Current efforts are focused on identifying small molecules or immune strategies to eliminate these latently infected cells. To assess the efficacy of these elimination strategies in HIV-1 infected patients, we must be able to measure the size of the latent reservoir. While an assay developed previously in our lab can measure the size of this latent reservoir, it is too laborious and costly to be utilized in large-scale HIV-1 eradication trials. We have developed a rapid assay to measure the size of the HIV-1 latent reservoir more amenable to these eradication trials.
PMCID: PMC3667757  PMID: 23737751
11.  Epigenetic Regulation of HIV-1 Latency by Cytosine Methylation 
PLoS Pathogens  2009;5(6):e1000495.
Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) persists in a latent state within resting CD4+ T cells of infected persons treated with highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). This reservoir must be eliminated for the clearance of infection. Using a cDNA library screen, we have identified methyl-CpG binding domain protein 2 (MBD2) as a regulator of HIV-1 latency. Two CpG islands flank the HIV-1 transcription start site and are methylated in latently infected Jurkat cells and primary CD4+ T cells. MBD2 and histone deacetylase 2 (HDAC2) are found at one of these CpG islands during latency. Inhibition of cytosine methylation with 5-aza-2′deoxycytidine (aza-CdR) abrogates recruitment of MBD2 and HDAC2. Furthermore, aza-CdR potently synergizes with the NF-κB activators prostratin or TNF-α to reactivate latent HIV-1. These observations confirm that cytosine methylation and MBD2 are epigenetic regulators of HIV-1 latency. Clearance of HIV-1 from infected persons may be enhanced by inclusion of DNA methylation inhibitors, such as aza-CdR, and NF-κB activators into current antiviral therapies.
Author Summary
Current drug therapies inhibit replication of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In patients undergoing these therapies, the amount of HIV is reduced to an undetectable level and HIV-related disease subsides. However, stopping antiviral drug therapy results in the quick return of HIV and of disease. One reason for this is latently infected cells, in which virus replication is temporarily halted. When drug therapy is stopped, virus from these latently infected cells can resume infection and spread to other cells in the patient, resulting in the return of disease. Here, we demonstrate that one mechanism of latency is DNA methylation, in which chemical groups called methyl groups are added to HIV DNA. We also identify a host protein called methyl-CpG binding domain protein 2 (MBD2) that binds methylated HIV DNA and is an important mediator of latency. Furthermore, we demonstrate that a drug that inhibits DNA methylation potently reactivates latent HIV. Novel strategies to eliminate or reduce the latent reservoir are necessary. Our findings may prove useful in the development of novel therapies to efficiently reactivate latent HIV-1, thus making it susceptible to current drug therapies.
PMCID: PMC2695767  PMID: 19557157
12.  Activation of Latent HIV Using Drug-Loaded Nanoparticles 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(4):e18270.
Antiretroviral therapy is currently only capable of controlling HIV replication rather than completely eradicating virus from patients. This is due in part to the establishment of a latent virus reservoir in resting CD4+ T cells, which persists even in the presence of HAART. It is thought that forced activation of latently infected cells could induce virus production, allowing targeting of the cell by the immune response. A variety of molecules are able to stimulate HIV from latency. However no tested purging strategy has proven capable of eliminating the infection completely or preventing viral rebound if therapy is stopped. Hence novel latency activation approaches are required. Nanoparticles can offer several advantages over more traditional drug delivery methods, including improved drug solubility, stability, and the ability to simultaneously target multiple different molecules to particular cell or tissue types. Here we describe the development of a novel lipid nanoparticle with the protein kinase C activator bryostatin-2 incorporated (LNP-Bry). These particles can target and activate primary human CD4+ T-cells and stimulate latent virus production from human T-cell lines in vitro and from latently infected cells in a humanized mouse model ex vivo. This activation was synergistically enhanced by the HDAC inhibitor sodium butyrate. Furthermore, LNP-Bry can also be loaded with the protease inhibitor nelfinavir (LNP-Bry-Nel), producing a particle capable of both activating latent virus and inhibiting viral spread. Taken together these data demonstrate the ability of nanotechnological approaches to provide improved methods for activating latent HIV and provide key proof-of-principle experiments showing how novel delivery systems may enhance future HIV therapy.
PMCID: PMC3071729  PMID: 21483687
13.  Theoretical Design of a Gene Therapy To Prevent AIDS but Not Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 Infection 
Journal of Virology  2003;77(18):10028-10036.
Recent reports confirm that, due to the presence of long-lived, latently infected cell populations, eradication of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) from infected patients by using antiretroviral drugs will be exceedingly difficult. An alternative to virus eradication may be to use gene therapy to induce a pseudo-latent state in virus-producing cells, thus transforming HIV-1 into a lifelong, but manageable, virus. Conditionally replicating HIV-1 (crHIV-1) gene therapy vectors provide an avenue for subduing HIV-1 expression in infected cells (by creating a parasite, crHIV-1, of the parasite HIV-1), potentially reducing the HIV-1 set point and delaying AIDS onset. Development of crHIV-1 vectors has proceeded in vitro, but the requirements for a crHIV-1 vector to proliferate and persist in vivo have not been explored. We expand a widely accepted mathematical model of HIV-1 in vivo dynamics to include a crHIV-1 gene therapy virus and derive a simple criterion for designing crHIV-1 viruses that will persist in vivo. The model introduces only two new parameters—HIV-1 inhibition and crHIV-1 production—and both can be experimentally engineered and controlled. Analysis demonstrates that crHIV-1 gene therapy can indefinitely reduce HIV-1 set point to levels comparable to those achieved with highly active antiretroviral therapy, provided crHIV-1 production is more efficient than HIV-1. Paradoxically, highly efficient therapeutic inhibition of HIV-1 was found to be disadvantageous. Thus, the field may benefit by shifting the search for more potent antiviral genes toward engineering optimized therapy viruses that package ultraefficiently while downregulating viral production moderately.
PMCID: PMC224590  PMID: 12941913
14.  HIV Latency 
HIV-1 can establish a state of latent infection at the level of individual T cells. Latently infected cells are rare in vivo and appear to arise when activated CD4+ T cells, the major targets cells for HIV-1, become infected and survive long enough to revert back to a resting memory state, which is nonpermissive for viral gene expression. Because latent virus resides in memory T cells, it persists indefinitely even in patients on potent antiretroviral therapy. This latent reservoir is recognized as a major barrier to curing HIV-1 infection. The molecular mechanisms of latency are complex and include the absence in resting CD4+ T cells of nuclear forms of key host transcription factors (e.g., NFκB and NFAT), the absence of Tat and associated host factors that promote efficient transcriptional elongation, epigenetic changes inhibiting HIV-1 gene expression, and transcriptional interference. The presence of a latent reservoir for HIV-1 helps explain the presence of very low levels of viremia in patients on antiretroviral therapy. These viruses are released from latently infected cells that have become activated and perhaps from other stable reservoirs but are blocked from additional rounds of replication by the drugs. Several approaches are under exploration for reactivating latent virus with the hope that this will allow elimination of the latent reservoir.
A subset of resting memory CD4+ T cells harboring integrated but transcriptionally silent HIV-1 proviruses currently poses a barrier to viral eradication in infected subjects.
PMCID: PMC3234450  PMID: 22229121
15.  Activation of HIV Transcription with Short-Course Vorinostat in HIV-Infected Patients on Suppressive Antiretroviral Therapy 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(11):e1004473.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) persistence in latently infected resting memory CD4+ T-cells is the major barrier to HIV cure. Cellular histone deacetylases (HDACs) are important in maintaining HIV latency and histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACi) may reverse latency by activating HIV transcription from latently infected CD4+ T-cells. We performed a single arm, open label, proof-of-concept study in which vorinostat, a pan-HDACi, was administered 400 mg orally once daily for 14 days to 20 HIV-infected individuals on suppressive antiretroviral therapy (ART). The primary endpoint was change in cell associated unspliced (CA-US) HIV RNA in total CD4+ T-cells from blood at day 14. The study is registered at (NCT01365065). Vorinostat was safe and well tolerated and there were no dose modifications or study drug discontinuations. CA-US HIV RNA in blood increased significantly in 18/20 patients (90%) with a median fold change from baseline to peak value of 7.4 (IQR 3.4, 9.1). CA-US RNA was significantly elevated 8 hours post drug and remained elevated 70 days after last dose. Significant early changes in expression of genes associated with chromatin remodeling and activation of HIV transcription correlated with the magnitude of increased CA-US HIV RNA. There were no statistically significant changes in plasma HIV RNA, concentration of HIV DNA, integrated DNA, inducible virus in CD4+ T-cells or markers of T-cell activation. Vorinostat induced a significant and sustained increase in HIV transcription from latency in the majority of HIV-infected patients. However, additional interventions will be needed to efficiently induce virus production and ultimately eliminate latently infected cells.
Trial Registration NCT01365065
Author Summary
The major barrier to curing HIV is the long term persistence of latently infected resting memory T-cells in HIV-infected patients on antiretroviral therapy (ART). One strategy being pursued to eliminate latently infected cells is to activate HIV production from latently infected cells with the aim of killing latently infected cells via virus induced cell death or stimulation of an HIV-specific immune response. Histone deacetylases (HDACs) are important in maintaining HIV latency. Vorinostat, an inhibitor of HDACs (HDACi) licensed for the treatment of some malignancies, has been shown in laboratory studies and a clinical study of selected individuals to disrupt HIV latency. We examined the ability of standard dose vorinostat given daily for 14 days to activate latent HIV infection in unselected HIV-infected individuals on ART. The study showed evidence of activation of latent HIV infection in 18/20 (90%) of individuals and was safe and generally well tolerated. There were significant early changes in host gene expression, which persisted during and after the period of vorinostat. No changes were seen in immune activation or number of latently infected cells. Vorinostat was able to activate latent HIV infection in most individuals. Additional interventions will be needed to eliminate latent HIV infection.
PMCID: PMC4231123  PMID: 25393648
16.  Deep Molecular Characterization of HIV-1 Dynamics under Suppressive HAART 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(10):e1002314.
In order to design strategies for eradication of HIV-1 from infected individuals, detailed insight into the HIV-1 reservoirs that persist in patients on suppressive antiretroviral therapy (ART) is required. In this regard, most studies have focused on integrated (proviral) HIV-1 DNA forms in cells circulating in blood. However, the majority of proviral DNA is replication-defective and archival, and as such, has limited ability to reveal the dynamics of the viral population that persists in patients on suppressive ART. In contrast, extrachromosomal (episomal) viral DNA is labile and as a consequence is a better surrogate for recent infection events and is able to inform on the extent to which residual replication contributes to viral reservoir maintenance. To gain insight into the diversity and compartmentalization of HIV-1 under suppressive ART, we extensively analyzed longitudinal peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) samples by deep sequencing of episomal and integrated HIV-1 DNA from patients undergoing raltegravir intensification. Reverse-transcriptase genes selectively amplified from episomal and proviral HIV-1 DNA were analyzed by deep sequencing 0, 2, 4, 12, 24 and 48 weeks after raltegravir intensification. We used maximum likelihood phylogenies and statistical tests (AMOVA and Slatkin-Maddison (SM)) in order to determine molecular compartmentalization. We observed low molecular variance (mean variability ≤0.042). Although phylogenies showed that both DNA forms were intermingled within the phylogenetic tree, we found a statistically significant compartmentalization between episomal and proviral DNA samples (P<10−6 AMOVA test; P = 0.001 SM test), suggesting that they belong to different viral populations. In addition, longitudinal analysis of episomal and proviral DNA by phylogeny and AMOVA showed signs of non-chronological temporal compartmentalization (all comparisons P<10−6) suggesting that episomal and proviral DNA forms originated from different anatomical compartments. Collectively, this suggests the presence of a chronic viral reservoir in which there is stochastic release of infectious virus and in which there are limited rounds of de novo infection. This could be explained by the existence of different reservoirs with unique pharmacological accessibility properties, which will require strategies that improve drug penetration/retention within these reservoirs in order to minimise maintenance of the viral reservoir by de novo infection.
Author Summary
In the majority of HIV-1 positive patients, antiretroviral therapy (ART) effects a sustained reduction in plasma viremia to below detectable levels. Despite this, replication competent viruses persist and fuel viremia if antiretroviral treatment is interrupted. This viral persistence stands in the way of viral eradication through ART. While this ability to persist in the face of therapy is generally considered to be attributable to a reservoir of latently infected cells, there is debate as to how this reservoir is maintained and in particular, whether there is replenishment of the reservoir by low level, residual replication. Novel antiviral agents targeting the viral integrase offer tools to explore the viral reservoirs that persist in the face of ART and we have shown that raltegravir perturbs these reservoirs as evidenced by an accumulation of episomal DNA upon rategravir intensification (Buzon et al., 2010). Through “deep sequencing” technology, we have longitudinally analyzed the genotypes of HIV episomes and integrated HIV DNA to evaluate whether they represent interrelated sequences or whether they have distinct origins. Statistical methods showed molecular compartmentalization, among and within episomal and integrated HIV-1 DNA samples, and suggest that episomal DNA in PBMC originates from a cellular/anatomic reservoir that is not revealed by sequencing of proviral DNA in PBMC in this study. These, and other data, suggest that ongoing replication, which can be blocked by adding raltegravir, occurs from proviruses that are genetically distinguishable from those detected at >1% frequency in these circulating blood cells.
PMCID: PMC3203183  PMID: 22046128
17.  Homeostatic Proliferation Fails to Efficiently Reactivate HIV-1 Latently Infected Central Memory CD4+ T Cells 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(10):e1002288.
Homeostatic proliferation ensures the longevity of central memory T-cells by inducing cell proliferation in the absence of cellular differentiation or activation. This process is governed mainly by IL-7. Central memory T-cells can also be stimulated via engagement of the T-cell receptor, leading to cell proliferation but also activation and differentiation. Using an in vitro model of HIV-1 latency, we have examined in detail the effects of homeostatic proliferation on latently infected central memory T cells. We have also used antigenic stimulation via anti-CD3/anti-CD28 antibodies and established a comparison with a homeostatic proliferation stimulus, to evaluate potential differences in how either treatment affects the dynamics of latent virus populations. First, we show that homeostatic proliferation, as induced by a combination of IL-2 plus IL-7, leads to partial reactivation of latent HIV-1 but is unable to reduce the size of the reservoir in vitro. Second, latently infected cells are able to homeostatically proliferate in the absence of viral reactivation or cell differentiation. These results indicate that IL-2 plus IL-7 may induce a detrimental effect by favoring the maintenance of the latent HIV-1 reservoir. On the other hand, antigenic stimulation efficiently reactivated latent HIV-1 in cultured central memory cells and led to depletion of the latently infected cells via virus-induced cell death.
Author Summary
HIV-1 latently infected cells are considered the last barrier towards viral eradication and cure. However, the low number of latently infected cells found in patients makes studies extremely difficult. Here, using a model of primary CD4 T-cells we study the behavior of latently infected central memory T cells when undergoing homeostatic proliferation. Homeostatic proliferation ensures the longevity of the central memory population, as it does not involve cellular differentiation. In the context of HIV infection, IL-7 has been reported to induce viral outgrowth from latently infected cells in different cellular models. However, those studies did not examine the relationship between cell proliferation and viral reactivation. We here report that the strong effect of IL-7 on the proliferation of memory cells counteracts this cytokine's modest ability to purge latent viruses. Thus, central memory cells are subject to homeostatic proliferation, a physiological effect that may contribute to the longevity of the latent reservoir in HIV-1 infected patients.
PMCID: PMC3188522  PMID: 21998586
18.  Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors Impair the Elimination of HIV-Infected Cells by Cytotoxic T-Lymphocytes 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(8):e1004287.
Resting memory CD4+ T-cells harboring latent HIV proviruses represent a critical barrier to viral eradication. Histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACis), such as suberanilohydroxamic acid (SAHA), romidepsin, and panobinostat have been shown to induce HIV expression in these resting cells. Recently, it has been demonstrated that the low levels of viral gene expression induced by a candidate HDACi may be insufficient to cause the death of infected cells by viral cytopathic effects, necessitating their elimination by immune effectors, such as cytotoxic T-lymphocytes (CTL). Here, we study the impact of three HDACis in clinical development on T-cell effector functions. We report two modes of HDACi-induced functional impairment: i) the rapid suppression of cytokine production from viable T-cells induced by all three HDACis ii) the selective death of activated T-cells occurring at later time-points following transient exposures to romidepsin or, to a lesser extent, panobinostat. As a net result of these factors, HDACis impaired CTL-mediated IFN-γ production, as well as the elimination of HIV-infected or peptide-pulsed target cells, both in liquid culture and in collagen matrices. Romidepsin exerted greater inhibition of antiviral function than SAHA or panobinostat over the dose ranges tested. These data suggest that treatment with HDACis to mobilize the latent reservoir could have unintended negative impacts on the effector functions of CTL. This could influence the effectiveness of HDACi-based eradication strategies, by impairing elimination of infected cells, and is a critical consideration for trials where therapeutic interruptions are being contemplated, given the importance of CTL in containing rebound viremia.
Author Summary
The advent of antiretroviral therapy has greatly improved the prognosis for HIV-infected individuals with access to care. However, current therapies are unable to cure infection, committing treated individuals to a lifetime of medication with significant economic burden. Furthermore, it has become clear that antiretroviral therapy does not completely restore health, leaving treated HIV-infected individuals at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders, and other health issues. Thus, there is a need to develop therapies capable of curing HIV infection. It is thought that, to be successful, curative strategies will need to combine a means to flush the virus out of the latently-infected cells in which it hides, with a means to kill these unmasked targets. A front-running approach proposes to use a class of drugs called histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACis) as flushing agents, with cytotoxic T-lymphocytes (CTL, or killer T-cells) to purge viral reservoirs. Here, we uncover an unexpected negative interaction between these two agents, whereby HDACis suppress the ability of CTL to kill HIV-infected cells. This interaction has the potential to limit the effectiveness of combining CTL with HDACis in flush and kill approaches to HIV eradication, and should be considered in the prioritization and optimization of potential curative strategies.
PMCID: PMC4133386  PMID: 25122219
19.  Comparative Analysis of Measures of Viral Reservoirs in HIV-1 Eradication Studies 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(2):e1003174.
HIV-1 reservoirs preclude virus eradication in patients receiving highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). The best characterized reservoir is a small, difficult-to-quantify pool of resting memory CD4+ T cells carrying latent but replication-competent viral genomes. Because strategies targeting this latent reservoir are now being tested in clinical trials, well-validated high-throughput assays that quantify this reservoir are urgently needed. Here we compare eleven different approaches for quantitating persistent HIV-1 in 30 patients on HAART, using the original viral outgrowth assay for resting CD4+ T cells carrying inducible, replication-competent viral genomes as a standard for comparison. PCR-based assays for cells containing HIV-1 DNA gave infected cell frequencies at least 2 logs higher than the viral outgrowth assay, even in subjects who started HAART during acute/early infection. This difference may reflect defective viral genomes. The ratio of infected cell frequencies determined by viral outgrowth and PCR-based assays varied dramatically between patients. Although strong correlations with the viral outgrowth assay could not be formally excluded for most assays, correlations achieved statistical significance only for integrated HIV-1 DNA in peripheral blood mononuclear cells and HIV-1 RNA/DNA ratio in rectal CD4+ T cells. Residual viremia was below the limit of detection in many subjects and did not correlate with the viral outgrowth assays. The dramatic differences in infected cell frequencies and the lack of a precise correlation between culture and PCR-based assays raise the possibility that the successful clearance of latently infected cells may be masked by a larger and variable pool of cells with defective proviruses. These defective proviruses are detected by PCR but may not be affected by reactivation strategies and may not require eradication to accomplish an effective cure. A molecular understanding of the discrepancy between infected cell frequencies measured by viral outgrowth versus PCR assays is an urgent priority in HIV-1 cure research.
Author Summary
Efforts to cure HIV-1 infection have focused on a small pool of CD4+ T cells that carry viral genetic information in a latent form. These cells persist even in patients on optimal antiretroviral therapy. Novel therapeutic strategies targeting latently infected cells are being developed, and therefore practical assays for measuring latently infected cells are urgently needed. These cells were discovered using a virus culture assay in which the cells are induced to release virus particles that are then expanded in culture. This assay is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. Here we evaluate alternative approaches for measuring persistent HIV-1, all of which rely on the detection of viral genetic information using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). None of the PCR-based assays correlated precisely with the virus culture assay. The fundamental problem is that infected cell frequencies determined by PCR are at least 2 logs higher than frequencies determined by the culture assay. Much of this difference may be due to cells carrying defective forms of the virus. These cells may not be eliminated by strategies designed to target latently infected cells. In this situation, successful clearance of latently infected cells might be masked by a large unchanging pool of cells carrying defective HIV-1.
PMCID: PMC3573107  PMID: 23459007
20.  Activation of HIV-1 from Latent Infection via Synergy of RUNX1 Inhibitor Ro5-3335 and SAHA 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(3):e1003997.
A major barrier to the elimination of HIV-1 infection is the presence of a pool of long-lived, latently infected CD4+ memory T-cells. The search for treatments to re-activate latent HIV to aid in clearance is hindered by the incomplete understanding of the mechanisms that lead to transcriptional silencing of viral gene expression in host cells. Here we identify a previously unknown role for RUNX1 in HIV-1 transcriptional latency. The RUNX proteins, in combination with the co-factor CBF-β, are critical transcriptional regulators in T-cells. RUNX1 strongly modulates CD4 expression and contributes to CD4+ T-cell function. We show that RUNX1 can bind DNA sequences within the HIV-1 LTR and that this binding represses transcription. Using patient samples we show a negative correlation between RUNX1 expression and viral load. Furthermore, we find that pharmacologic inhibition of RUNX1 by a small molecule inhibitor, Ro5-3335, synergizes with the histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor SAHA (Vorinostat) to enhance the activation of latent HIV-1 in both cell lines and PBMCs from patients. Our findings indicate that RUNX1 and CBF-β cooperate in cells to modulate HIV-1 replication, identifying for the first time RUNX1 as a cellular factor involved in HIV-1 latency. This work highlights the therapeutic potential of inhibitors of RUNX1 to re-activate virus and aid in clearance of HIV-1.
Author Summary
Since it was first discovered in the early 1980s, Human Immunodeficiency Virus 1 (HIV-1), the causative agent of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), has been the focus of intense research. In untreated individuals, the number of CD4+ T-cells in the blood slowly drops over time and the patient eventually succumbs to an opportunistic infection. Although current therapies are capable of managing the virus; they do not represent a true cure. As a retrovirus, HIV-1 incorporates itself into the host genome and survives in the long-lived population of memory T-cells found in the human host. In this study, we examine the roll of a T-cell specific transcription factor (RUNX1) in the control of HIV-1 replication. Through various molecular studies, we show that RUNX1 represses HIV-1 replication in T-cells. By examining samples from patients with HIV-1, we are able to show a negative correlation between viral replication and RUNX1 expression. Finally, we show that an inhibitor of RUNX1 synergizes with Vorinostat, a current lead compound in the quest to re-active HIV-1 and purge the latent pool.
PMCID: PMC3961356  PMID: 24651404
21.  Regulation of HIV-1 Latency by T-cell Activation 
Cytokine  2007;39(1):63-74.
HIV infected patients harbor ~105–106 memory CD4 T-cells that contain fully integrated but transcriptionally silent HIV proviruses. While small in number, these latently infected cells form a drug-insensitive reservoir that importantly contributes to the life-long persistence of HIV despite highly effective antiviral therapy. In tissue culture, latent HIV proviruses can be activated when their cellular hosts are exposed to select proinflammatory cytokines or their T-cell receptors are ligated. However, due to a lack of potency and/or dose-limiting toxicity, attempts to purge virus from this latent reservoir in vivo with immune-activating agents including anti-CD3 antibodies and IL-2 have failed. A deeper understanding of the molecular underpinnings of HIV latency is clearly required, including determining whether viral latency is actively reinforced by transcriptional repressors, defining which inducible host transcription factors most effectively antagonize latency, and elucidating the role of chromatin in viral latency. Only through such an improved understanding will it be possible to identify combination therapies that might allow complete purging of the latent reservoir and realization of the difficult and elusive goal of complete eradication of HIV in infected patients.
PMCID: PMC2063506  PMID: 17643313
HIV; Latency; NF-κB; Tat
22.  Inhibition of Replication of Reactivated Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 (HIV-1) in Latently Infected U1 Cells Transduced with an HIV-1 Long Terminal Repeat-Driven PKR cDNA Construct 
Journal of Virology  1999;73(11):9021-9028.
Treatment of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1)-infected individuals with highly active antiretroviral therapy has effectively decreased viral load to undetectable levels. However, efforts to eliminate HIV-1 from these individuals have been unsuccessful, due to the presence of stable, latent viral reservoirs in resting and active CD4+ T lymphocytes and macrophages. These latent populations have become critical targets in the effort to eradicate HIV-1 from infected individuals. The mechanisms of HIV-1 latency have been studied by using the HIV-1-infected promonocytic cell line U1. The interferon-inducible double-stranded RNA-dependent p68 protein kinase (PKR), a key enzyme in the host-mediated antiviral response, is known to be down-regulated during HIV-1 infection. Therefore, in order to evaluate the role of PKR in the inhibition of replication of reactivated HIV-1 in latently infected U1 cells, we have utilized cDNA constructs containing PKR under the transcriptional control of the HIV-1 long terminal repeat. One PKR-transduced clone, U1/106-4:27, inhibited the tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α)-induced replication of HIV-1 by 99% compared to control U1 cells as measured by syncytium formation and HIV-1 p24 antigen enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Western blot analysis showed an increase in PKR expression through 96 h postinduction in the U1/106-4:27 clone, concomitant with maximal increases in phosphorylation of the α subunit of eukaryotic initiation factor 2 and NF-κB activity at 72 h postinduction. These results demonstrate that overexpression of PKR can inhibit the replication of reactivated HIV-1 in latently infected cells and confirm the involvement of PKR in the interferon-associated antiviral pathway against HIV-1 infection. Additionally, treatment of the PKR-transduced U1/106-4:27 clone with the protease inhibitor saquinavir (250 nM) completely inhibited TNF-α-induced HIV-1 replication.
PMCID: PMC112934  PMID: 10516008
23.  Prevention of SIV Rectal Transmission and Priming of T Cell Responses in Macaques after Local Pre-exposure Application of Tenofovir Gel 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(8):e157.
The rectum is particularly vulnerable to HIV transmission having only a single protective layer of columnar epithelium overlying tissue rich in activated lymphoid cells; thus, unprotected anal intercourse in both women and men carries a higher risk of infection than other sexual routes. In the absence of effective prophylactic vaccines, increasing attention is being given to the use of microbicides and preventative antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. To prevent mucosal transmission of HIV, a microbicide/ARV should ideally act locally at and near the virus portal of entry. As part of an integrated rectal microbicide development programme, we have evaluated rectal application of the nucleotide reverse transcriptase (RT) inhibitor tenofovir (PMPA, 9-[(R)-2-(phosphonomethoxy) propyl] adenine monohydrate), a drug licensed for therapeutic use, for protective efficacy against rectal challenge with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) in a well-established and standardised macaque model.
Methods and Findings
A total of 20 purpose-bred Indian rhesus macaques were used to evaluate the protective efficacy of topical tenofovir. Nine animals received 1% tenofovir gel per rectum up to 2 h prior to virus challenge, four macaques received placebo gel, and four macaques remained untreated. In addition, three macaques were given tenofovir gel 2 h after virus challenge. Following intrarectal instillation of 20 median rectal infectious doses (MID50) of a noncloned, virulent stock of SIVmac251/32H, all animals were analysed for virus infection, by virus isolation from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC), quantitative proviral DNA load in PBMC, plasma viral RNA (vRNA) load by sensitive quantitative competitive (qc) RT-PCR, and presence of SIV-specific serum antibodies by ELISA. We report here a significant protective effect (p = 0.003; Fisher exact probability test) wherein eight of nine macaques given tenofovir per rectum up to 2 h prior to virus challenge were protected from infection (n = 6) or had modified virus outcomes (n = 2), while all untreated macaques and three of four macaques given placebo gel were infected, as were two of three animals receiving tenofovir gel after challenge. Moreover, analysis of lymphoid tissues post mortem failed to reveal sequestration of SIV in the protected animals. We found a strong positive association between the concentration of tenofovir in the plasma 15 min after rectal application of gel and the degree of protection in the six animals challenged with virus at this time point. Moreover, colorectal explants from non-SIV challenged tenofovir-treated macaques were resistant to infection ex vivo, whereas no inhibition was seen in explants from the small intestine. Tissue-specific inhibition of infection was associated with the intracellular detection of tenofovir. Intriguingly, in the absence of seroconversion, Gag-specific gamma interferon (IFN-γ)-secreting T cells were detected in the blood of four of seven protected animals tested, with frequencies ranging from 144 spot forming cells (SFC)/106 PBMC to 261 spot forming cells (SFC)/106 PBMC.
These results indicate that colorectal pretreatment with ARV drugs, such as tenofovir, has potential as a clinically relevant strategy for the prevention of HIV transmission. We conclude that plasma tenofovir concentration measured 15 min after rectal administration may serve as a surrogate indicator of protective efficacy. This may prove to be useful in the design of clinical studies. Furthermore, in vitro intestinal explants served as a model for drug distribution in vivo and susceptibility to virus infection. The finding of T cell priming following exposure to virus in the absence of overt infection is provocative. Further studies would reveal if a combined modality microbicide and vaccination strategy is feasible by determining the full extent of local immune responses induced and their protective potential.
Martin Cranage and colleagues find that topical tenofovir gel can protect against rectal challenge with SIV in a macaque model, and can permit the induction of SIV-specific T cell responses.
Editors' Summary
About 33 million people are now infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS by killing immune system cells. As yet, there is no cure for AIDS, although HIV infections can be held in check with antiretroviral drugs. Also, despite years of research, there is no vaccine available that effectively protects people against HIV infection. So, to halt the AIDS epidemic, other ways of preventing the spread of HIV are being sought. For example, pre-exposure treatment (prophylaxis) with antiretroviral drugs is being investigated as a way to prevent HIV transmission. In addition, because HIV is often spread through heterosexual penile-to-vaginal sex with an infected partner, several vaginal microbicides (compounds that protect against HIV when applied inside the vagina) are being developed, some of which contain antiretroviral drugs.
Why Was This Study Done?
Because HIV can cross the membranes that line the mouth and the rectum (the lower end of the large intestine that connects to the anus) in addition to the membrane that lines the vagina, HIV transmission can also occur during oral and anal sex. The lining of the rectum in particular is extremely thin and overlies tissues rich in activated T cells (the immune system cells that HIV targets), so unprotected anal intercourse carries a high risk of HIV infection. Anal intercourse is common among men who have sex with men but is also more common in heterosexual populations than is generally thought. Tenofovir (an antiretroviral drug that counteracts HIV after it has entered human cells) given by mouth partly protects macaques against rectal infection with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV; a virus that induces AIDS in monkeys and apes) so the researchers wanted to know whether this drug might be effective against rectal SIV infection if applied at the site where the virus enters the body.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
To answer this question, the researchers rectally infected several macaques with SIV up to 2 h after rectal application of a gel containing tenofovir, after rectal application of a gel not containing the drug, or after no treatment. In addition, a few animals were treated with the tenofovir gel after the viral challenge. Most of the animals given the tenofovir gel before the viral challenge were partly or totally protected from SIV infection, whereas all the untreated animals and most of those treated with the placebo gel or with the drug-containing gel after the viral challenge became infected with SIV. High blood levels of tenofovir 15 min after its rectal application correlated with protection from viral infection. The researchers also collected rectal and small intestine samples from tenofovir-treated macaques that had not been exposed to SIV and asked which samples were resistant to SIV infection in laboratory dishes. They found that only the rectal samples were resistant to infection and only rectal cells contained tenofovir. Finally, activated T cells that recognized an SIV protein were present in the blood of some of the animals that were protected from SIV infection by the tenofovir gel.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings, although based on experiments in only a few animals, suggest that rectal treatment with antiretroviral drugs before rectal exposure to HIV might prevent rectal HIV transmission in people. However, results from animal experiments do not always reflect what happens in people. Indeed, clinical trials of a potential vaginal microbicide that worked well in macaques were halted recently because women using the microbicide had higher rates of HIV infection than those using a control preparation. The finding that immune-system activation can occur in the absence of overt infection in animals treated with the tenofovir gel additionally suggests that a combination of a local antiretroviral/microbicide and vaccination might be a particularly effective way to prevent HIV transmission. However, because HIV targets activated T cells, viral rechallenge experiments must be done to check that the activated T cells induced by the virus in the presence of tenofovir do not increase the likelihood of infection upon re-exposure to HIV before this potential microbicide is tried in people.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Read the accompanying PLoS Medicine Perspective by Florian Hladik
An overview of HIV infection and AIDS is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
HIVInSite has comprehensive information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including an article on safer sex, which includes information on the risks associated with specific types of sex and on microbicides and other methods to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV
Information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, including information on HIV prevention and on microbicides
The World Health Organization has a fact sheet on microbicides
The UK charity NAM also provides detailed information on microbicides
PrEP Watch is a comprehensive information source on pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV prevention
Global Campaign for Microbicides is an international coalition of organisations dedicated to accelerating access to new HIV prevention options
PMCID: PMC2494562  PMID: 18684007
24.  HIV Latency in the Humanized BLT Mouse 
Journal of Virology  2012;86(1):339-347.
Even after extended treatment with powerful antiretroviral drugs, HIV is not completely eliminated from infected individuals. Latently infected CD4+ T cells constitute one reservoir of replication-competent HIV that needs to be eliminated to completely purge virus from antiretroviral drug-treated patients. However, a major limitation in the development of therapies to eliminate this latent reservoir is the lack of relevant in vivo models that can be used to test purging strategies. Here, we show that the humanized BLT (bone marrow-liver-thymus) mouse can be used as both an abundant source of primary latently infected cells for ex vivo latency analysis and also as an in vivo system for the study of latency. We demonstrate that over 2% of human cells recovered from the spleens of HIV-infected BLT mice can be latently infected and that this virus is integrated, activation inducible, and replication competent. The non-tumor-inducing phorbol esters prostratin and 12-deoxyphorbol-13-phenylacetate can each induce HIV ex vivo from these latently infected cells, indicating that this model can be used as a source of primary cells for testing latency activators. Finally, we show activation-inducible virus is still present following suppression of plasma viral loads to undetectable levels by using the antiretroviral drugs zidovudine, indinavir sulfate, and didanosine, demonstrating that this model can also be used to assess the in vivo efficacy of latency-purging strategies. Therefore, the HIV-infected BLT mouse should provide a useful model for assessment of HIV latency activators and approaches to eliminate persistent in vivo HIV reservoirs.
PMCID: PMC3255908  PMID: 22072769
25.  Rational Design of Drugs That Induce Human Immunodeficiency Virus Replication 
Journal of Virology  2003;77(19):10227-10236.
Drugs that induce human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) replication could be used in combination with highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) to reduce the size of the latent reservoir that is in part responsible for viral persistence. Protein kinase C (PKC) is a logical target for such drugs because it activates HIV-1 transcription through multiple mechanisms. Here we show that HIV-1 gene expression can be induced by potent synthetic analogues of the lipid second messenger diacylglycerol (DAG) synthesized on a five-member ring platform that reduces the entropy of binding relative to that of the more flexible DAG template. By varying the alkyl side chains of these synthetic DAG lactones, it was possible to maximize their potency and ability to render latently infected T cells sensitive to killing by an anti-HIV-1 immunotoxin while minimizing the side effects of CD4 and CXCR4 downregulation and tumor necrosis factor alpha upregulation. The two lead compounds, LMC03 and LMC07, regulated a series of PKC-sensitive genes involved in T-cell activation and induced viral gene expression in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from HIV-1-infected individuals. These studies demonstrate the potential for the rational design of agents that, in conjunction with HAART and HIV-specific toxins, can be used to decrease or eliminate the pool of latently infected reservoirs by forcing viral expression.
PMCID: PMC228450  PMID: 12970407

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