Gliotoxin, identified from a screen of fungal metabolites, disrupts 7SK snRNP, releases P-TEFb, and reverses HIV-1 latency

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Science Advances  12 Aug 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 33, eaba6617
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba6617


A leading pharmacological strategy toward HIV cure requires “shock” or activation of HIV gene expression in latently infected cells with latency reversal agents (LRAs) followed by their subsequent clearance. In a screen for novel LRAs, we used fungal secondary metabolites as a source of bioactive molecules. Using orthogonal mass spectrometry (MS) coupled to latency reversal bioassays, we identified gliotoxin (GTX) as a novel LRA. GTX significantly induced HIV-1 gene expression in latent ex vivo infected primary cells and in CD4+ T cells from all aviremic HIV-1+ participants. RNA sequencing identified 7SK RNA, the scaffold of the positive transcription elongation factor b (P-TEFb) inhibitory 7SK small nuclear ribonucleoprotein (snRNP) complex, to be significantly reduced upon GTX treatment of CD4+ T cells. GTX directly disrupted 7SK snRNP by targeting La-related protein 7 (LARP7), releasing active P-TEFb, which phosphorylated RNA polymerase II (Pol II) C-terminal domain (CTD), inducing HIV transcription.

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