Cyclosporin A (CsA) is a potent inhibitor of the NFAT family of transcription factors that enhance T cell activation. The observation that human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1)-positive transplant recipients have a reduced HIV-1 viral burden during treatment with CsA suggested that NFAT may play a direct role in enhancing transcription of the HIV-1 viral genome. Two sets of NFAT binding sites were identified in the HIV-1 long terminal repeat (LTR) promoter by in vitro footprinting with full-length recombinant NFAT protein, and gel shift analysis of nuclear protein from polyclonally activated primary CD4 T cells revealed specific binding of NFAT1 to the NFkappaB binding sites of the HIV-1 LTR. Activation of primary CD4 T cells transiently transfected with a HIV-1 LTR luciferase reporter plasmid, lacking the NFAT binding sites in the upstream putative negative regulatory element but maintaining the NFkappaB/NFAT sites, demonstrated increased HIV-1 gene expression when cotransfected with a NFAT1 expression vector. Moreover, CsA, FK506, and a dominant-negative NFAT1 protein independently inhibited HIV-1 LTR promoter activity in CD4 T cells stimulated with phorbol ester and calcium ionophore. In primary human CD4 T cells, CsA also inhibited promoter activity directed by multimers of binding sites for NFAT, while having no effect on NFkappaB multimer-driven promoter activity. Increasing NFAT1 levels in CD4 T cells transiently transfected with a HIV-1 provirus also increased p24 protein expression. Thus, NFAT may be a target for prevention of HIV-1 LTR-directed gene expression in human CD4 T cells.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.