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HIV-1 transcription is essential for the virus replication cycle. HIV-1 Tat is a viral transactivator that strongly stimulates the processivity of RNA polymerase II (RNAPII) via recruitment of the cyclin T1/CDK9 positive transcription elongation factor, which phosphorylates the C-terminal domain (CTD) of RNAPII. Consistently, HIV-1 replication in transformed cells is very sensitive to direct CDK9 inhibition. Thus, CDK9 could be a potential target for anti-HIV-1 therapy. A clearer understanding of the requirements for CDK9 activity in primary human T cells is needed to assess whether the CDK9-dependent step in HIV-1 transcription can be targeted clinically. We have investigated the effects of limiting CDK9 activity with recombinant lentiviruses expressing a dominant-negative form of CDK9 (HA-dnCDK9) in peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBLs) and other cells. Our results show that direct inhibition of CDK9 potently inhibits HIV-1 replication in single-round infection assays with little to undetectable effects on RNAPII transcription, RNA synthesis, proliferation and viability. In PBLs purified from multiple donors, direct inhibition of CDK9 activity blocks HIV-1 replication/transcription but does not prevent T-cell activation, as determined via measurement of cell surface and cell cycle entry and progression markers, and DNA synthesis. We have also compared the effects of HA-dnCDK9 to flavopiridol (FVP), a general CDK inhibitor that potently inhibits CDK9. In contrast to HA-dnCDK9, FVP interferes with key cellular processes at concentrations that inhibit HIV-1 replication with potency similar to HA-dnCDK9. In particular, FVP inhibits several T-cell activation markers and DNA synthesis in primary PBLs at the minimal concentrations required to inhibit HIV-1 replication. Our results imply that small pharmacological compounds targeting CDK9 with enhanced selectivity could be developed into effective anti-HIV-1 therapeutic drugs.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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Salerno D, Hasham MG, Marshall R, Garriga J, Tsygankov AY, Graña X. Direct inhibition of CDK9 blocks HIV-1 replication without preventing T-cell activation in primary human peripheral blood lymphocytes. Gene. 2007 Dec 15;405(1-2):65-78. Epub 2007 Sep 19. doi: 10.1016/j.gene.2007.09.010. PMID: 17949927. PMCID: PMC2222555.