mBio 2016 09 137(5) doi 10.1128/mBio.01433-16
There has been extraordinary progress in understanding the roles of lentiviral accessory proteins in antagonizing host antiviral defense proteins. However, the precise primary function of the accessory gene Vpr remains elusive. Here we suggest that engagement with the DNA damage response is an important function of primate lentiviral Vpr proteins because of its conserved function among diverse lentiviral lineages. In contrast, we show that, for HIV-1, HIV-2, and related Vpr isolates and orthologs, there is a lack of correlation between DNA damage response activation and interaction with the host SLX4 protein complex of structure specific endonucleases; some Vpr proteins are able to interact with SLX4, but the majority are not. Using the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)/Cas9 method to knock out SLX4, we formally showed that HIV-1 and HIV-2 Vpr orthologs can still activate the DNA damage response and cell cycle arrest in the absence of SLX4. Together, our data suggest that activation of the DNA damage response, but not SLX4 interaction, is conserved and therefore indicative of an important function of Vpr. Our data also indicate that Vpr activates the DNA damage response through an SLX4-independent mechanism that remains uncharacterized.
HIV-1 and HIV-2 belong to a family of viruses called lentiviruses that infect at least 40 primate species, including humans. Lentiviruses have been circulating in primates for at least 5 million years. In order to better fight HIV, we must understand the viral and host factors necessary for infection, adaptation, and transmission of these viruses. Using the natural variation of HIV-1, HIV-2, and related lentiviruses, we have investigated the role of the DNA damage response in the viral life cycle. We have found that the ability of lentiviruses to activate the DNA damage response is largely conserved. However, we also found that the SLX4 host factor is not required for this activation, as was previously proposed. This indicates that the DNA damage response is an important player in the viral life cycle, and yet the mechanism(s) by which HIV-1, HIV-2, and other primate lentiviruses engage the DNA damage response is still unknown.