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J Immunol. 2002 Jan 1;168(1):197-206.

Native HIV-1 Tat protein targets monocyte-derived dendritic cells and enhances their maturation, function, and antigen-specific T cell responses.

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Laboratory of Virology, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Viale Regina Elena 299, 00161 Rome, Italy.


Vaccination of cynomolgus monkeys with the biologically active HIV-1 Tat protein induces specific Th1 responses, including CTLs. Similar responses are also induced by vaccination with tat DNA, but not by vaccination with inactivated Tat or Tat peptides. This suggested that the native Tat protein may act differently on APC as compared with inactivated Tat or peptide Ag. In this study, we show that biologically active Tat is very efficiently taken up by monocyte-derived dendritic cells (MDDC) in a time (within minutes)- and dose-dependent (starting from 0.1 ng/ml) fashion, whereas uptake is very poor or absent with other APC, including T cell blasts and B lymphoblastoid cell lines. Although maturation of MDDC reduces their pino/phagocytic activity, mature MDDC take up Tat much more efficiently than immature cells. In addition, Tat uptake is abolished or greatly hampered by oxidation/inactivation of the protein or by performing the experiments at 4 degrees C, suggesting that MDDC take up native Tat by a receptor-mediated endocytosis. After uptake, active Tat protein induces up-regulation of MHC and costimulatory molecules and production of IL-12, TNF-alpha, and beta chemokines, which drive Th1-type immune response. In contrast, these effects are lost by oxidation and inactivation of the protein. Finally, native Tat enhances Ag presentation by MDDC, increasing Ag-specific T cell responses. These data indicate that native Tat selectively targets MDDC, is taken up by these cells via specialized pathways, and promotes their maturation and Ag-presenting functions, driving Th1-type immune responses. Thus, Tat can act as both Ag and adjuvant, capable of driving T cell-mediated immune responses.

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