One of the hallmarks of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection is the decline in CD4 T lymphocytes which precedes the progression from an asymptomatic state to AIDS. Apoptosis (programmed cell death) is one of the mechanisms proposed to mediate this depletion. Infectious and inactivated preparations of HIV-1 were compared for their potential to induce apoptosis. Analysis with fluorescence-activated cell sorting using the DNA intercalative compound propidium iodide demonstrated that apoptosis occurred only with infectious HIV-1, implying that cell surface binding and signalling by the virus alone were insufficient to trigger apoptosis. Apoptosis was further confirmed by the presence of characteristic digestion of host cell DNA and morphologically by nuclear condensation observed by transmission electron microscopy. HIV infection of CD4 T cell lines generated an accumulation of the cells in G/M phase of the cell cycle and cells undergoing apoptosis appeared to originate from the pool of cells in the G phase. Inhibitors of HIV replication were used to identify the point in the virus replicative cycle at which apoptosis is induced. The reverse transcriptase inhibitor, ddI, or the HIV protease inhibitor, RO31-8959 (Saquinavir), were added either 2 h before or 6 h after HIV inoculation. Only ddI inhibited HIV-induced apoptosis when added before inoculation; however, neither treatment was effective in preventing HIV-induced apoptosis when applied 6 h after inoculation. These data indicate that apoptosis requires a single round of reverse transcription and the expression of virion proteins, but not the maturation of progeny virions. Two agents which compete with HIV for binding to CD4 T cells, dextran sulphate and the anti-CD4 MAb Leu3a, were effective at preventing apoptosis when added 6 h after infection, implying that a subsequent gp120-CD4 interaction at the surface of an infected cell was required to complete the apoptotic process.


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