Anti-tumor activity mediated by protein and peptide transduction of HIV viral protein R (Vpr)

Cancer Biol Ther. 2009 Jan;8(2):180-7. doi: 10.4161/cbt.8.2.7205. Epub 2009 Feb 22.


Peptides that are capable of traversing the cell membrane, via protein transduction domains (PTDs), are attractive either directly as drugs or indirectly as carriers for the delivery of therapeutic molecules. For example, an HIV-1 Tat derived peptide has successfully delivered a large variety of "cargoes" including proteins, peptides and nucleic acids into cells when conjugate to the PTD. There also exists other naturally occurring membrane permeable peptides which have potential as PTDs. Specifically, one of the accessory proteins of HIV (viral protein R; i.e., Vpr), which is important in controlling viral pathogenesis, possesses cell transduction domain characteristics. Related to these characteristics, Vpr has also been demonstrated to induce cell cycle arrest and host/target cell apoptosis, suggesting a potential anti-cancer activity for this protein. In this report we assessed the ability of Vpr protein or peptides, with or without conjugation to a PTD, to mediate anti-cancer activity against several tumor cell lines. Specifically, several Vpr peptides spanning carboxy amino acids 65-83 induced significant (i.e., greater than 50%) in vitro growth inhibition/toxicity of murine B16.F10 melanoma cells. Likewise, in in vitro experiments with other tumor cell lines, conjugation of Vpr to the Tat derived PTD and transfection of this construct into cells enhanced the induction of in vitro apoptosis by this protein when compared to the effects of transfection of cells with unconjugated Vpr. These results underscore the potential for Vpr based reagents as well as PTDs to enhance anti-tumor activity, and warrants further examination of Vpr protein and derived peptides as potential therapeutic agents against progressive cell proliferative diseases such as cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma / drug therapy
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Female
  • Gene Products, vpr / genetics
  • Gene Products, vpr / metabolism*
  • HIV-1 / genetics
  • HIV-1 / physiology*
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Monocytic, Acute / drug therapy
  • Male
  • Melanoma, Experimental / drug therapy
  • Neuroblastoma / drug therapy
  • Peptides / pharmacology*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Proteins / pharmacology*
  • Skin Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Transduction, Genetic


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Gene Products, vpr
  • Peptides
  • Proteins