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Cell Death Dis. 2013 Dec 5;4:e944. doi: 10.1038/cddis.2013.473.

A candidate anti-HIV reservoir compound, auranofin, exerts a selective 'anti-memory' effect by exploiting the baseline oxidative status of lymphocytes.

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Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Viale Regina Elena, 299, Rome, Italy.


Central memory (T(CM)) and transitional memory (T(TM)) CD4(+) T cells are known to be the major cellular reservoirs for HIV, as these cells can harbor a transcriptionally silent form of viral DNA that is not targeted by either the immune system or current antiretroviral drug regimens. In the present study, we explored the molecular bases of the anti-HIV reservoir effects of auranofin (AF), a pro-oxidant gold-based drug and a candidate compound for a cure of AIDS. We here show that T(CM) and T(TM) lymphocytes have lower baseline antioxidant defenses as compared with their naive counterpart. These differences are mirrored by the effects exerted by AF on T-lymphocytes: AF was able to exert a pro-differentiating and pro-apoptotic effect, which was more pronounced in the memory subsets. AF induced an early activation of the p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (p38 MAPK) followed by mitochondrial depolarization and a final burst in intracellular peroxides. The pro-differentiating effect was characterized by a downregulation of the CD27 marker expression. Interestingly, AF-induced apoptosis was inhibited by pyruvate, a well-known peroxide scavenger, but pyruvate did not inhibit the pro-differentiating effect of AF, indicating that the pro-apoptotic and pro-differentiating effects involve different pathways. In conclusion, our results demonstrate that AF selectively targets the T(CM)/T(TM) lymphocyte subsets, which encompass the HIV reservoir, by affecting redox-sensitive cell death pathways.

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