Strength of T cell signaling regulates HIV-1 replication and establishment of latency

by Matthew Gagne, Daniel Michaels, Gillian M. Schiralli Lester, Suryaram Gummuluru, Wilson W. Wong, Andrew J. Henderson

A major barrier to curing HIV-1 is the long-lived latent reservoir that supports re-emergence of HIV-1 upon treatment interruption. Targeting this reservoir will require mechanistic insights into the establishment and maintenance of HIV-1 latency. Whether T cell signaling at the time of HIV-1 infection influences productive replication or latency is not fully understood. We used a panel of chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) with different ligand binding affinities to induce a range of signaling strengths to model differential T cell receptor signaling at the time of HIV-1 infection. Stimulation of T cell lines or primary CD4+ T cells expressing chimeric antigen receptors supported HIV-1 infection regardless of affinity for ligand; however, only signaling by the highest affinity receptor facilitated HIV-1 expression. Activation of chimeric antigen receptors that had intermediate and low binding affinities did not support provirus transcription, suggesting that a minimal signal is required for optimal HIV-1 expression. In addition, strong signaling at the time of infection produced a latent population that was readily inducible, whereas latent cells generated in response to weaker signals were not easily reversed. Chromatin immunoprecipitation showed HIV-1 transcription was limited by transcriptional elongation and that robust signaling decreased the presence of negative elongation factor, a pausing factor, by more than 80%. These studies demonstrate that T cell signaling influences HIV-1 infection and the establishment of different subsets of latently infected cells, which may have implications for targeting the HIV-1 reservoir.

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