Galectin-9 Mediates HIV Transcription by Inducing TCR-Dependent ERK Signaling

Front Immunol. 2019 Feb 20:10:267. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2019.00267. eCollection 2019.


Endogenous plasma levels of the immunomodulatory carbohydrate-binding protein galectin-9 (Gal-9) are elevated during HIV infection and remain elevated after antiretroviral therapy (ART) suppression. We recently reported that Gal-9 regulates HIV transcription and potently reactivates latent HIV. However, the signaling mechanisms underlying Gal-9-mediated viral transcription remain unclear. Given that galectins are known to modulate T cell receptor (TCR)-signaling, we hypothesized that Gal-9 modulates HIV transcriptional activity, at least in part, through inducing TCR signaling pathways. Gal-9 induced T cell receptor ζ chain (CD3ζ) phosphorylation (11.2 to 32.1%; P = 0.008) in the J-Lat HIV latency model. Lck inhibition reduced Gal-9-mediated viral reactivation in the J-Lat HIV latency model (16.8-0.9%; P < 0.0001) and reduced both Gal-9-mediated CD4+ T cell activation (10.3 to 1.65% CD69 and CD25 co-expression; P = 0.0006), and IL-2/TNFα secretion (P < 0.004) in primary CD4+ T cells from HIV-infected individuals on suppressive ART. Using phospho-kinase antibody arrays, we found that Gal-9 increased the phosphorylation of the TCR-downstream signaling molecules ERK1/2 (26.7-fold) and CREB (6.6-fold). ERK and CREB inhibitors significantly reduced Gal-9-mediated viral reactivation (16.8 to 2.6 or 12.6%, respectively; P < 0.0007). Given that the immunosuppressive rapamycin uncouples HIV latency reversal from cytokine-associated toxicity, we also investigated whether rapamycin could uncouple Gal-9-mediated latency reactivation from its concurrent pro-inflammatory cytokine production. Rapamycin reduced Gal-9-mediated secretion of IL-2 (4.4-fold, P = 0.001) and TNF (4-fold, P = 0.02) without impacting viral reactivation (16.8% compared to 16.1%; P = 0.2). In conclusion, Gal-9 modulates HIV transcription by activating the TCR-downstream ERK and CREB signaling pathways in an Lck-dependent manner. Our findings could have implications for understanding the role of endogenous galectin interactions in modulating TCR signaling and maintaining chronic immune activation during ART-suppressed HIV infection. In addition, uncoupling Gal-9-mediated viral reactivation from undesirable pro-inflammatory effects, using rapamycin, may increase the potential utility of recombinant Gal-9 within the reversal of HIV latency eradication framework.

Keywords: HIV; HIV latency; HIV persistence; T cell receptor; TCR signaling; galectin-9; lectins; rapamycin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Galectins / immunology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Viral / immunology
  • HIV Infections / immunology*
  • HIV-1 / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Jurkat Cells
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / immunology*
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / immunology*
  • Signal Transduction / immunology
  • Transcription, Genetic / immunology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / immunology
  • Virus Activation / immunology
  • Virus Latency / immunology
  • Virus Replication / immunology


  • Galectins
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha