Plasma levels of high-mobility group box 1 protein (HMGB1) are elevated during the course of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection and the molecule has an impact on virus replication. This study investigated the mode of cell death and release of HMGB1 during HIV-1 infection . MT4 cells and primary CD4 T cells were infected with HIV-1 isolates, and HMGB1 release was monitored in relation to cytopathic effects (CPE) and apoptosis. HMGB1 release from cells was analysed by Western blotting. For MT4 cells, an enzyme-linked immunosorbent spot (ELISPOT) assay was adapted to measure the release during necrosis. Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) activity was quantified using a commercial assay. Flow cytometry was used to determine the level of infection and apoptosis. MT4 cells were ≥90 % infected at 48 h post-infection (p.i.). CPE was first observed at 60 h and correlated with release of HMGB1, LDH activity and caspase-3 (C3) activation. HMGB1 spots were clearly detected by ELISPOT assay at 72 h p.i. Annexin V and C3 staining showed that apoptosis was substantially involved in HIV-1-related cell death. Addition of Z-VAD (a caspase inhibitor) in a single dose at 24 or 40 h p.i. decreased both the number of caspase-positive cells and the release of HMGB1. Infection of primary CD4 T cells showed a 22 % (median) infection rate at 96 h. Related CPE corresponded to LDH and HMGB1 release. Both necrosis and apoptosis contributed to HMGB1 liberation during HIV-1-induced cell death and the protein could induce tumour necrosis factor- release from peripheral mononuclear blood cells. These data imply that passive HMGB1 release contributes to the excessive immune activation characteristic of HIV-1 pathogenesis.


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