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Open Access Research

Impact of sustained RNAi-mediated suppression of cellular cofactor Tat-SF1 on HIV-1 replication in CD4+ T cells

Victoria A Green1, Patrick Arbuthnot1 and Marc S Weinberg12*

Author Affiliations

1 Antiviral Gene Therapy Research Unit, Health Sciences Faculty, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

2 Department of Molecular and Experimental Medicine, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA, USA

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Virology Journal 2012, 9:272  doi:10.1186/1743-422X-9-272

Published: 15 November 2012

Abstract

Background

Conventional anti-HIV drug regimens targeting viral enzymes are plagued by the emergence of drug resistance. There is interest in targeting HIV-dependency factors (HDFs), host proteins that the virus requires for replication, as drugs targeting their function may prove protective. Reporter cell lines provide a rapid and convenient method of identifying putative HDFs, but this approach may lead to misleading results and a failure to detect subtle detrimental effects on cells that result from HDF suppression. Thus, alternative methods for HDF validation are required. Cellular Tat-SF1 has long been ascribed a cofactor role in Tat-dependent transactivation of viral transcription elongation. Here we employ sustained RNAi-mediated suppression of Tat-SF1 to validate its requirement for HIV-1 replication in a CD4+ T cell-derived line and its potential as a therapeutic target.

Results

shRNA-mediated suppression of Tat-SF1 reduced HIV-1 replication and infectious particle production from TZM-bl reporter cells. This effect was not a result of increased apoptosis, loss of cell viability or an immune response. To validate its requirement for HIV-1 replication in a more relevant cell line, CD4+ SupT1 cell populations were generated that stably expressed shRNAs. HIV-1 replication was significantly reduced for two weeks (~65%) in cells with depleted Tat-SF1, although the inhibition of viral replication was moderate when compared to SupT1 cells expressing a shRNA targeting the integration cofactor LEDGF/p75. Tat-SF1 suppression was attenuated over time, resulting from decreased shRNA guide strand expression, suggesting that there is a selective pressure to restore Tat-SF1 levels.

Conclusions

This study validates Tat-SF1 as an HDF in CD4+ T cell-derived SupT1 cells. However, our findings also suggest that Tat-SF1 is not a critical cofactor required for virus replication and its suppression may affect cell growth. Therefore, this study demonstrates the importance of examining HIV-1 replication kinetics and cytotoxicity in cells with sustained HDF suppression to validate their therapeutic potential as targets.