JCI insight 2017 09 072(17) doi 10.1172/jci.insight.93684
Eradication of the HIV-1 latent reservoir represents the current paradigm to developing a cure for AIDS. HIV-1 has evolved multiple mechanisms to evade CD8 T cell responses, including HIV-1 Nef-mediated downregulation of MHC-I from the surface of infected cells. Nef transcripts and protein are detectable in samples from aviremic donors, suggesting that Nef expression in latently HIV-1-infected CD4 T cells protects them from immune-mediated clearance. Here, we tested 4 small molecule inhibitors of HIV-1 Nef in an in vitro primary CD4 T cell latency model and measured the ability of autologous ex vivo or HIV-1 peptide-expanded CD8 T cells to recognize and kill latently infected cells as a function of inhibitor treatment. Nef inhibition enhanced cytokine secretion by autologous CD8 T cells against latently HIV-1-infected targets in an IFN-γ release assay. Additionally, CD8 T cell-mediated elimination of latently HIV-1-infected cells was significantly enhanced following Nef blockade, measured as a reduction in the frequency of infected cells and Gag protein in cultures following viral outgrowth assays. We demonstrate for the first time to our knowledge that Nef blockade, in combination with HIV-specific CD8 T cell expansion, might be a feasible strategy to target the HIV-1 latent reservoir that should be tested further in vivo.