Clearance of HIV-1 or SIV reservoirs by promotion of apoptosis and inhibition of autophagy: Targeting intracellular molecules in cure-directed strategies

J Leukoc Biol. 2022 Nov;112(5):1245-1259. doi: 10.1002/JLB.4MR0222-606. Epub 2022 Mar 31.


The reservoirs of the HIV display cellular properties resembling long-lived immune memory cells that could be exploited for viral clearance. Our interest in developing a cure for HIV stems from the studies of immunologic memory against infections. We and others have found that long-lived immune memory cells employ prosurvival autophagy and antiapoptotic mechanisms to protect their longevity. Here, we describe the rationale for the development of an approach to clear HIV-1 by selective elimination of host cells harboring replication-competent HIV (SECH). While reactivation of HIV-1 in the host cells with latency reversing agents (LRAs) induces viral gene expression leading to cell death, LRAs also simultaneously up-regulate prosurvival antiapoptotic molecules and autophagy. Mechanistically, transcription factors that promote HIV-1 LTR-directed gene expression, such as NF-κB, AP-1, and Hif-1α, can also enhance the expression of cellular genes essential for cell survival and metabolic regulation, including Bcl-xL, Mcl-1, and autophagy genes. In the SECH approach, we inhibit the prosurvival antiapoptotic molecules and autophagy induced by LRAs, thereby allowing maximum killing of host cells by the induced HIV-1 proteins. SECH treatments cleared HIV-1 infections in humanized mice in vivo and in HIV-1 patient PBMCs ex vivo. SECH also cleared infections by the SIV in rhesus macaque PBMCs ex vivo. Research efforts are underway to improve the efficacy and safety of SECH and to facilitate the development of SECH as a therapeutic approach for treating people with HIV.

Keywords: HIV-1, apoptosis, autophagy, HIV cure, SECH.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Autophagy
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes
  • HIV Infections*
  • HIV-1*
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Mice
  • Myeloid Cell Leukemia Sequence 1 Protein / therapeutic use
  • NF-kappa B
  • Transcription Factor AP-1
  • Virus Activation / genetics
  • Virus Latency


  • NF-kappa B
  • Myeloid Cell Leukemia Sequence 1 Protein
  • Transcription Factor AP-1