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Jean-Yves Sgro
Inst. for Mol.Virology
731B Bock Labs
1525 Linden Drive Madison, WI 53706

Table of Contents for this page:

  • Current Issue
  • Current Issue of Retrovirology

    Retrovirology - Latest Articles

  • Microarray analysis reveals global modulation of endogenous retroelement transcription by microbes

  • Background: A substantial proportion of both the mouse and human genomes comprise of endogenous retroelements (REs), which include endogenous retroviruses. Over evolutionary time, REs accumulate inactivating mutations or deletions and thus lose the ability to replicate. Additionally, REs can be transcriptionally repressed by dedicated mechanisms of the host. Nevertheless, many of them still possess and express intact open reading frames, and their transcriptional activity has been associated with many physiological and pathological processes of the host. However, this association remains tenuous due to incomplete understanding of the mechanism by which RE transcription is regulated. Here, we use a bioinformatics tool to examine RE transcriptional activity, measured by microarrays, in murine and human immune cells responding to microbial stimulation. Results: Immune cell activation by microbial signals in vitro caused extensive changes in the transcription not only of the host genes involved in the immune response, but also of numerous REs. Modulated REs were frequently found near or embedded within similarly-modulated host genes. Focusing on probes reporting single-integration, intergenic REs, revealed extensive transcriptional responsiveness of these elements to microbial signals. Microbial stimulation modulated RE expression in a cell-intrinsic manner. In line with these results, the transcriptional activity of numerous REs followed characteristics in different tissues according to exposure to environmental microbes and was further heavily altered during viral infection or imbalances with intestinal microbiota, both in mice and humans. Conclusions: Together, these results highlight the utility of improved methodologies in assessing RE transcription profiles in both archived and new microarray data sets. More importantly, application of this methodology suggests that immune activation, as a result of infection with pathogens or dysbiosis with commensal microbes, causes global modulation of RE transcription. RE responsiveness to external stimuli should, therefore, be considered in any association between RE transcription and disease.

  • The role of A-kinase anchoring protein 95-like protein in annealing of tRNALys3 to HIV-1 RNA

  • Background: RNA helicase A (RHA), a DExH box protein, promotes annealing of tRNALys3, a primer for reverse transcription, to HIV-1 RNA and assembles into virus particles. A-kinase anchoring protein 95-like protein (HAP95) is a binding partner of RHA. The role of HAP95 in the annealing of tRNALys3 was examined in this study. Results: HAP95 associates with the reverse transcriptase region of Pol protein of HIV-1. Decreasing endogenous HAP95 in HIV-1-producing 293T cells by siRNA reduces the amount of tRNALys3 annealed on viral RNA. This defect was further deteriorated by knockdown of RHA in the same cells, suggesting a cooperative effect between these two proteins. Biochemical assay in vitro using purified GST-tagged HAP95 shows that HAP95 may inhibit the activity of RHA. Conclusion: The results support a hypothesis that HAP95 may transiently block RHA’s activity to protect the annealed tRNALys3 on viral RNA in the cells from removing by RHA during the packaging of RHA into virus particles, thus facilitating the annealing of tRNALys3 to HIV-1 RNA.

  • A CD4+ T cell antagonist epitope down-regulates activating signaling proteins, up-regulates inhibitory signaling proteins and abrogates HIV-specific T cell function

  • Background: CD4+ T cells are critically important in HIV infection, being both the primary cells infected by HIV and likely playing a direct or indirect role in helping control virus replication. Key areas of interest in HIV vaccine research are mechanisms of viral escape from the immune response. Interestingly, in HIV infection it has been shown that peptide sequence variation can reduce CD4+ T cell responses to the virus, and small changes to peptide sequences can transform agonist peptides into antagonist peptides. Results: We describe, at a molecular level, the consequences of antagonism of HIV p24-specific CD4+ T cells. Antagonist peptide exposure in the presence of agonist peptide caused a global suppression of agonist-induced gene expression and signaling molecule phosphorylation. In addition to down-regulation of factors associated with T cell activation, a smaller subset of genes associated with negative regulation of cell activation was up-regulated, including KFL-2, SOCS-1, and SPDEY9P. Finally, antagonist peptide in the absence of agonist peptide also delivered a negative signal to T cells. Conclusions: Small changes in p24-specific peptides can result in T cell antagonism and reductions of both T cell receptor signaling and activation. These changes are at least in part mediated by a dominant negative signal delivered by antagonist peptide, as evidenced by up-regulation of negative regulatory genes in the presence of agonist plus antagonist stimulation. Antagonism can have dramatic effects on CD4+ T cell function and presents a potential obstacle to HIV vaccine development.

  • Reliable reconstruction of HIV-1 whole genome haplotypes reveals clonal interference and genetic hitchhiking among immune escape variants

  • Background: Following transmission, HIV-1 evolves into a diverse population, and next generation sequencing enables us to detect variants occurring at low frequencies. Studying viral evolution at the level of whole genomes was hitherto not possible because next generation sequencing delivers relatively short reads. Results: We here provide a proof of principle that whole HIV-1 genomes can be reliably reconstructed from short reads, and use this to study the selection of immune escape mutations at the level of whole genome haplotypes. Using realistically simulated HIV-1 populations, we demonstrate that reconstruction of complete genome haplotypes is feasible with high fidelity. We do not reconstruct all genetically distinct genomes, but each reconstructed haplotype represents one or more of the quasispecies in the HIV-1 population. We then reconstruct 30 whole genome haplotypes from published short sequence reads sampled longitudinally from a single HIV-1 infected patient. We confirm the reliability of the reconstruction by validating our predicted haplotype genes with single genome amplification sequences, and by comparing haplotype frequencies with observed epitope escape frequencies. Conclusions: Phylogenetic analysis shows that the HIV-1 population undergoes selection driven evolution, with successive replacement of the viral population by novel dominant strains. We demonstrate that immune escape mutants evolve in a dependent manner with various mutations hitchhiking along with others. As a consequence of this clonal interference, selection coefficients have to be estimated for complete haplotypes and not for individual immune escapes.

  • Discovery and full genome characterization of a new SIV lineage infecting red-tailed guenons (Cercopithecus ascanius schmidti) in Kibale National Park, Uganda

  • Background: Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) type 1 and 2, the causative agents of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), emerged from African non-human primates (NHPs) through zoonotic transmission of simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIV). Among African NHPs, the Cercopithecus genus contains the largest number of species known to harbor SIV. However, our understanding of the diversity and evolution of SIVs infecting this genus is limited by incomplete taxonomic and geographic sampling, particularly in East Africa. In this study, we screened blood specimens from red-tailed guenons (Cercopithecus ascanius schmidti) from Kibale National Park, Uganda, for the presence of novel SIVs using unbiased deep-sequencing.FindingsWe describe and characterize the first full-length SIV genomes from wild red-tailed guenons in Kibale National Park, Uganda. This new virus, tentatively named SIVrtg_Kib, was detected in five out of twelve animals and is highly divergent from other Cercopithecus SIVs as well as from previously identified SIVs infecting red-tailed guenons, thus forming a new SIV lineage. Conclusions: Our results show that the genetic diversity of SIVs infecting red-tailed guenons is greater than previously appreciated. This diversity could be the result of cross-species transmission between different guenon species or limited gene flow due to geographic separation among guenon populations.

  • Similarities and differences in the nucleic acid chaperone activity of HIV-2 and HIV-1 nucleocapsid proteins in vitro

  • Background: The nucleocapsid domain of Gag and mature nucleocapsid protein (NC) act as nucleic acid chaperones and facilitate folding of nucleic acids at critical steps of retroviral replication cycle. The basic N-terminus of HIV-1 NC protein was shown most important for the chaperone activity. The HIV-2 NC (NCp8) and HIV-1 NC (NCp7) proteins possess two highly conserved zinc fingers, flanked by basic residues. However, the NCp8 N-terminal domain is significantly shorter and contains less positively charged residues. This study characterizes previously unknown, nucleic acid chaperone activity of the HIV-2 NC protein. Results: We have comparatively investigated the in vitro nucleic acid chaperone properties of the HIV-2 and HIV-1 NC proteins. Using substrates derived from the HIV-1 and HIV-2 genomes, we determined the ability of both proteins to chaperone nucleic acid aggregation, annealing and strand exchange in duplex structures. Both NC proteins displayed comparable, high annealing activity of HIV-1 TAR DNA and its complementary nucleic acid. Interesting differences between the two NC proteins were discovered when longer HIV substrates, particularly those derived from the HIV-2 genome, were used in chaperone assays. In contrast to NCp7, NCp8 weakly facilitates annealing of HIV-2 TAR RNA to its complementary TAR (−) DNA. NCp8 is also unable to efficiently stimulate tRNALys3 annealing to its respective HIV-2 PBS motif. Using truncated NCp8 peptide, we demonstrated that despite the fact that the N-terminus of NCp8 differs from that of NCp7, this domain is essential for NCp8 activity. Conclusion: Our data demonstrate that the HIV-2 NC protein displays reduced nucleic acid chaperone activity compared to that of HIV-1 NC. We found that NCp8 activity is limited by substrate length and stability to a greater degree than that of NCp7. This is especially interesting in light of the fact that the HIV-2 5′UTR is more structured than that of HIV-1. The reduced chaperone activity observed with NCp8 may influence the efficiency of reverse transcription and other key steps of the HIV-2 replication cycle.

  • Human immunodeficiency virus Tat associates with a specific set of cellular RNAs

  • Background: Human Immunodeficiency Virus 1 (HIV-1) exhibits a wide range of interactions with the host cell but whether viral proteins interact with cellular RNA is not clear. A candidate interacting factor is the trans-activator of transcription (Tat) protein. Tat is required for expression of virus genes but activates transcription through an unusual mechanism; binding to an RNA stem-loop, the transactivation response element (TAR), with the host elongation factor P-TEFb. HIV-1 Tat has also been shown to alter the expression of host genes during infection, contributing to viral pathogenesis but, whether Tat also interacts with cellular RNAs is unknown. Results: Using RNA immunoprecipitation coupled with microarray analysis, we have discovered that HIV-1 Tat is associated with a specific set of human mRNAs in T cells. mRNAs bound by Tat share a stem-loop structural element and encode proteins with common biological roles. In contrast, we do not find evidence that Tat associates with microRNAs or the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC). The interaction of Tat with cellular RNA requires an intact RNA binding domain and Tat RNA binding is linked to an increase in RNA abundance in cell lines and during infection of primary CD4+ T cells by HIV. Conclusions: We conclude that Tat interacts with a specific set of human mRNAs in T cells, many of which show changes in abundance in response to Tat and HIV infection. This work uncovers a previously unrecognised interaction between HIV and its host that may contribute to viral alteration of the host cellular environment.

  • Human immature Langerhans cells restrict CXCR4-using HIV-1 transmission

  • Background: Sexual transmission is the main route of HIV-1 infection and the CCR5-using (R5) HIV-1 is predominantly transmitted, even though CXCR4-using (X4) HIV-1 is often abundant in chronic HIV-1 patients. The mechanisms underlying this tropism selection are unclear. Mucosal Langerhans cells (LCs) are the first immune cells to encounter HIV-1 and here we investigated the role of LCs in selection of R5 HIV-1 using an ex vivo epidermal and vaginal transmission models. Results: Immature LCs were productively infected by X4 as well as R5 HIV-1. However, only R5 but not X4 viruses were selectively transmitted by immature LCs to T cells. Transmission of HIV-1 was depended on de novo production of HIV-1 in LCs, since it could be inhibited by CCR5 fusion inhibitors as well as reverse transcription inhibitors. Notably, the activation state of LCs affected the restriction in X4 HIV-1 transmission; immune activation by TNF facilitated transmission of X4 as well as R5 HIV-1. Conclusions: These data suggest that LCs play a crucial role in R5 selection and that immature LCs effectively restrict X4 at the level of transmission.

  • A single point mutation in cyclin T1 eliminates binding to Hexim1, Cdk9 and RNA but not to AFF4 and enforces repression of HIV transcription

  • Background: Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) gene expression is primarily regulated at the step of transcription elongation. The viral Tat protein recruits the Positive Transcription Elongation Factor b (P-TEFb) and the Super Elongation Complex (SEC) to the HIV promoter and enhances transcription by host RNA polymerase II. Results: To map residues in the cyclin box of cyclin T1 that mediate the binding of P-TEFb to its interacting host partners and support HIV transcription, a pool of N-terminal cyclin T1 mutants was generated. Binding and functional assays in cells identified specific positions in cyclin T1 that are important for (i) association of P-TEFb with Hexim1, Cdk9 and SEC/AFF4 (ii) supporting Tat-transactivation in murine cells and (iii) inhibition of basal and Tat-dependent HIV transcription in human cells. Significantly, a unique cyclin T1 mutant where a Valine residue at position 107 was mutated to Glutamate (CycT1-V107E) was identified. CycT1-V107E did not bind to Hexim1 or Cdk9, and also could not assemble on HIV TAR or 7SK-snRNA. However, it bound strongly to AFF4 and its association with HIV Tat was slightly impaired. CycT1-V107E efficiently inhibited HIV replication in human T cell lines and in CD4(+) primary cells, and enforced HIV transcription repression in T cell lines that harbor a transcriptionally silenced integrated provirus. Conclusions: This study outlines the mechanism by which CycT1-V107E mutant inhibits HIV transcription and enforces viral latency. It defines the importance of N-terminal residues of cyclin T1 in mediating contacts of P-TEFb with its transcription partners, and signifies the requirement of a functional P-TEFb and SEC in mediating HIV transcription.

  • A Cyclin T1 point mutation that abolishes positive transcription elongation factor (P-TEFb) binding to Hexim1 and HIV tat

  • Background: The positive transcription elongation factor b (P-TEFb) plays an essential role in activating HIV genome transcription. It is recruited to the HIV LTR promoter through an interaction between the Tat viral protein and its Cyclin T1 subunit. P-TEFb activity is inhibited by direct binding of its subunit Cyclin T (1 or 2) with Hexim (1 or 2), a cellular protein, bound to the 7SK small nuclear RNA. Hexim1 competes with Tat for P-TEFb binding. Results: Mutations that impair human Cyclin T1/Hexim1 interaction were searched using systematic mutagenesis of these proteins coupled with a yeast two-hybrid screen for loss of protein interaction. Evolutionary conserved Hexim1 residues belonging to an unstructured peptide located N-terminal of the dimerization domain, were found to be critical for P-TEFb binding. Random mutagenesis of the N-terminal region of Cyclin T1 provided identification of single amino-acid mutations that impair Hexim1 binding in human cells. Furthermore, conservation of critical residues supported the existence of a functional Hexim1 homologue in nematodes. Conclusions: Single Cyclin T1 amino-acid mutations that impair Hexim1 binding are located on a groove between the two cyclin folds and define a surface overlapping the HIV-1 Tat protein binding surface. One residue, Y175, in the centre of this groove was identified as essential for both Hexim1 and Tat binding to P-TEFb as well as for HIV transcription.
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