A high-throughput screening assay for silencing established HIV-1 macrophage infection identifies nucleoside analogs that perturb H3K9me3 on proviral genomes.

Yi Yanjie and Zankharia Urvi and Cassel Joel A and Lu Fang and Salvino Joseph M and Lieberman Paul M and Collman Ronald G

HIV-infected macrophages are long-lived cells that represent a barrier to functional cure. Additionally, low-level viral expression by central nervous system (CNS) macrophages contributes to neurocognitive deficits that develop despite antiretroviral therapy (ART). We recently identified H3K9me3 as an atypical epigenetic mark associated with chronic HIV infection in macrophages. Thus, strategies are needed to suppress HIV-1 expression in macrophages, but the unique myeloid environment and the responsible macrophage/CNS-tropic strains require cell/strain-specific approaches. Here, we generated an HIV-1 reporter virus from a CNS-derived strain with intact auxiliary genes expressing destabilized luciferase. We employed this reporter virus in polyclonal infection of primary human monocyte-derived macrophages (MDM) for a high-throughput screen (HTS) to identify compounds that suppress virus expression from established macrophage infection. Screening ~6,000 known drugs and compounds yielded 214 hits. A secondary screen with 10-dose titration identified 24 meeting criteria for HIV-selective activity. Using three replication-competent CNS-derived macrophage-tropic HIV-1 isolates and viral gene expression readout in MDM, we confirmed the effect of three purine analogs, nelarabine, fludarabine, and entecavir, showing the suppression of HIV-1 expression from established macrophage infection. Nelarabine inhibited the formation of H3K9me3 on HIV genomes in macrophages. Thus, this novel HTS assay can identify suppressors of HIV-1 transcription in established macrophage infection, such as nucleoside analogs and HDAC inhibitors, which may be linked to H3K9me3 modification. This screen may be useful to identify new metabolic and epigenetic agents that ameliorate HIV-driven neuroinflammation in people on ART or prevent viral recrudescence from macrophage reservoirs in strategies to achieve ART-free remission. IMPORTANCE Macrophages infected by HIV-1 are a long-lived reservoir and a barrier in current efforts to achieve HIV cure and also contribute to neurocognitive complications in people despite antiretroviral therapy (ART). Silencing HIV expression in these cells would be of great value, but the regulation of HIV-1 in macrophages differs from T cells. We developed a novel high-throughput screen for compounds that can silence established infection of primary macrophages, and identified agents that downregulate virus expression and alter provirus epigenetic profiles. The significance of this assay is the potential to identify new drugs that act in the unique macrophage environment on relevant viral strains, which may contribute to adjunctive treatment for HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders and/or prevent viral rebound in efforts to achieve ART-free remission or cure.

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August, 2023



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