HEXIM1-Tat chimera inhibits HIV-1 replication

by Marie Leoz, Petra Kukanja, Zeping Luo, Fang Huang, Daniele C. Cary, B. Matija Peterlin, Koh Fujinaga

Transcription of HIV provirus is a key step of the viral cycle, and depends on the recruitment of the cellular positive transcription elongation factor (P-TEFb) to the HIV promoter. The viral transactivator Tat can displace P-TEFb from the 7SK small nuclear ribonucleoprotein, where it is bound and inactivated by HEXIM1, and bring it to TAR, which allows the stalled RNA polymerase II to transition to successful transcription elongation. In this study, we designed a chimeric inhibitor of HIV transcription by combining functional domains from HEXIM1 and Tat. The chimera (HT1) potently inhibited gene expression from the HIV promoter, by competing with Tat for TAR and P-TEFb binding, while keeping the latter inactive. HT1 inhibited spreading infection as well as viral reactivation in lymphocyte T cell line models of HIV latency, with little effect on cellular transcription and metabolism. This proof-of-concept study validates an innovative approach to interfering with HIV transcription via peptide mimicry and competition for RNA-protein interactions. HT1 represents a new candidate for HIV therapy, or HIV cure via the proposed block and lock strategy.

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