Despite the advent of combined antiretroviral therapy (cART), the persistence of viral reservoirs remains a major barrier to curing human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection. Recently, the shock and kill strategy, by which such reservoirs are eradicated following reactivation of latent HIV-1 by latency-reversing agents (LRAs), has been extensively practiced. It is important to reestablish virus-specific and reliable immune surveillance to eradicate the reactivated virus-harboring cells. In this report, we attempted to reach this goal by using newly developed chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell technology. To generate anti-HIV-1 CAR-T cells, we connected the single-chain variable fragment of the broadly neutralizing HIV-1-specific antibody VRC01 to a third-generation CAR moiety as the extracellular and intracellular domains and subsequently transduced this into primary CD8+ T lymphocytes. We demonstrated that the resulting VC-CAR-T cells induced T cell-mediated cytolysis of cells expressing HIV-1 Env proteins and significantly inhibited HIV-1 rebound after removal of antiviral inhibitors in a viral infectivity model in cell culture that mimics the termination of the cART in the clinic. Importantly, the VC-CAR-T cells also effectively induced the cytolysis of LRA-reactivated HIV-1-infected CD4+ T lymphocytes isolated from infected individuals receiving suppressive cART. Our data demonstrate that the special features of genetically engineered CAR-T cells make them a particularly suitable candidate for therapeutic application in efforts to reach a functional HIV cure.
Importance: The presence of latently infected cells remains a key obstacle to the development of a functional HIV-1 cure. Reactivation of dormant viruses is possible with latency-reversing agents, but the effectiveness of these compounds and the subsequent immune response require optimization if the eradication of HIV-1-infected cells is to be achieved. Here, we describe the use of a chimeric antigen receptor, comprised of T cell activation domains and a broadly neutralizing antibody, VRC01, targeting HIV-1 to treat the infected cells. T cells expressing this construct exerted specific cytotoxic activity against wild-type HIV-1-infected cells, resulting in a dramatic reduction in viral rebound in vitro, and showed persistent effectiveness against reactivated latently infected T lymphocytes from HIV-1 patients receiving combined antiretroviral therapy. The methods used in this study constitute an improvement over existing CD4-based CAR-T technology and offer a promising approach to HIV-1 immunotherapy.
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