Journal of virology 2017 07 2791(16) pii 10.1128/JVI.00801-17
AIDS-related lymphomas (ARLs) are expected to increase in the future since combined antiretroviral therapy (cART) enhances the life expectancy of HIV-1-infected (HIV(+)) patients but does not affect the occurrence of ARLs to the same extent as that of other tumors. Lymphangiogenesis is essential in supporting growth and metastatic spreading of ARLs. HIV-1 does not infect the neoplastic B cells, but HIV-1 proteins have been hypothesized to play a key role in sustaining a prolymphangiogenic microenvironment in lymphoid organs. The HIV-1 matrix protein p17 is detected in blood and accumulates in the germinal centers of lymph nodes of HIV(+) patients under successful cART. The viral protein displays potent lymphangiogenic activity in vitro and in vivo This is, at least in part, mediated by the secretion of the lymphangiogenic factor endothelin-1, suggesting that activation of a secretory pathway sustains the lymphangiogenic activity of p17. Here, we show that the p17 lymphangiogenic activity occurs on human lymph node-derived lymphatic endothelial cells (LN-LECs) under stress conditions only and relies entirely on activation of an autophagy-based pathway. In fact, induction of autophagy by p17 promotes lymphangiogenesis, whereas pharmacological and genetic inhibition of autophagy inhibits p17-triggered lymphangiogenesis. Similarly, the vasculogenic activity of p17 was totally inhibited in autophagy-incompetent mice. Our findings reveal a previously unrecognized role of autophagy in lymphangiogenesis and open the way to identify novel treatment strategies aimed at inhibiting aberrant tumor-driven lymphangiogenesis in HIV(+) patients.IMPORTANCE AIDS-related lymphomas (ARLs) are the most common malignancies in HIV-1-infected (HIV(+)) patients after the introduction of combined antiretroviral therapy (cART). Lymphangiogenesis is of critical importance in sustaining growth and metastasis of ARLs. Indeed, enhanced lymphangiogenesis occurs in the lymph nodes of HIV(+) patients under successful cART. The HIV-1 matrix protein p17 is detected in blood and accumulates in the lymph node germinal centers even in the absence of virus replication. Several findings suggest a key role for p17 as a microenvironmental factor capable of promoting lymphangiogenesis. Here, we show that p17 promotes lymphangiogenesis of human lymph node-derived lymphatic endothelial cells (LN-LECs). The lymphangiogenic activity of p17 is sustained by an autophagy-based pathway that enables LN-LECs to release prolymphangiogenic factors into the extracellular microenvironment. Our findings indicate that specific targeting of autophagy may provide an important new tool for treating ARLs.