Background: Cells derived from native rodents have limits at distinct steps of HIV replication. Rat primary CD4 T-cells, but not macrophages, display a profound transcriptional deficit that is ameliorated by transient trans-complementation with the human Tat-interacting protein Cyclin T1 (hCycT1).
Results: Here, we generated transgenic rats that selectively express hCycT1 in CD4 T-cells and macrophages. hCycT1 expression in rat T-cells boosted early HIV gene expression to levels approaching those in infected primary human T-cells. hCycT1 expression was necessary, but not sufficient, to enhance HIV transcription in T-cells from individual transgenic animals, indicating that endogenous cellular factors are critical co-regulators of HIV gene expression in rats. T-cells from hCD4/hCCR5/hCycT1-transgenic rats did not support productive infection of prototypic wild-type R5 HIV-1 strains ex vivo, suggesting one or more significant limitation in the late phase of the replication cycle in this primary rodent cell type. Remarkably, we identify a replication-competent HIV-1 GFP reporter strain (R7/3 YU-2 Env) that displays characteristics of a spreading, primarily cell-to-cell-mediated infection in primary T-cells from hCD4/hCCR5-transgenic rats. Moreover, the replication of this recombinant HIV-1 strain was significantly enhanced by hCycT1 transgenesis. The viral determinants of this so far unique replicative ability are currently unknown.
Conclusion: Thus, hCycT1 expression is beneficial to de novo HIV infection in a transgenic rat model, but additional genetic manipulations of the host or virus are required to achieve full permissivity.