Regulation of HIV-1 transcription at 3% versus 21% oxygen concentration

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HIV transcription is induced by the HIV-1 Tat protein, in concert with cellular co-factors including CDK9, CDK2, NF-κB, and others. The cells of most of the body's organs are exposed to ∼3-6% oxygen, but most in vitro studies of HIV replication are conducted at 21% oxygen. We hypothesized that activities of host cell factors involved in HIV-1 replication may differ at 3% versus 21% O2, and that such differences may affect HIV-1 replication. Here we show that Tat-induced HIV-1 transcription was reduced at 3% O2 compared to 21% O2. HIV-1 replication was also reduced in acutely or chronically infected cells cultured at 3% O2 compared to 21% O2. This reduction was not due the decreased cell growth or increased cellular toxicity and also not due to the induction of hypoxic response. At 3% O2, the activity of CDK9/cyclin T1 was inhibited and Sp1 activity was reduced, whereas the activity of other host cell factors such as CDK2 or NF-κB was not affected. CDK9-specific inhibitor ARC was much less efficient at 3% compared to 21% O2 and also expression of CDK9/cyclin T1-dependent IκB inhibitor a was repressed. Our results suggest that lower HIV-1 transcription at 3% O2 compared to 21% O2 may be mediated by lower activity of CDK9/cyclin T1 and Sp1 at 3% O2 and that additional host cell factors such as CDK2 and NF-κB might be major regulators of HIV-1 transcription at low O2 concentrations. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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