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Biochem Pharmacol. 1999 Nov 15;58(10):1521-8.

HIV-1-trans-activating (Tat) protein: both a target and a tool in therapeutic approaches.

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Section on Clinical Pharmacology, Imperial College School of Medicine, Hammersmith Hospital, London, UK.


Tat proteins (trans-activating proteins) are present in all known lentiviruses and are early RNA binding proteins that regulate transcription. Tat from the human immunodeficiency virus type-1 is a protein comprising 86 amino acids and encoded by 2 exons. The first 72 amino acids are encoded by exon 1 and exhibit full trans-activating activity. The second exon encodes a 14-amino-acid C-terminal sequence that is not required for trans-activation but does contain an RGD motif, which is important in binding to alphavbeta3 and alpha5beta1 integrins. Tat has an unusual property for a transcription factor; it can be released and enter cells freely, yet still retain its activity, enabling it to up-regulate a number of genes. Tat also has an angiogenic effect; it is a potent growth factor for Kaposi sarcoma-derived spindle cells, and, separately, it has been shown to bind to a specific receptor, Flk-1/KDR, on vascular smooth muscle cells, as well as to integrin-like receptors present on rat skeletal muscle cells and the lymphocyte cell line H9. It appears that the basic domain of tat is important, not only for translocation but also for nuclear localisation and trans-activation of cellular genes. As such, targeting of tat protein or, more simply, the basic domain provides great scope for therapeutic intervention in HIV-1 infection. There is also opportunity for tat to be used as a molecular tool; the protein can be manipulated to deliver non-permeable compounds into cells, an approach that already has been employed using ovalbumin, beta-galactosidase, horseradish peroxidase, and caspase-3.

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