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HIV-1 Vpu Promotes Phagocytosis of Infected CD4+ T Cells by Macrophages through Downregulation of CD47.

mBio (2021-08-25)
Lijun Cong, Scott M Sugden, Pascal Leclair, Chinten James Lim, Tram N Q Pham, Éric A Cohen

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) remodels the cell surface of infected cells to facilitate viral dissemination and promote immune evasion. The membrane-associated viral protein U (Vpu) accessory protein encoded by HIV-1 plays a key role in this process by altering cell surface levels of multiple host proteins. Using an unbiased quantitative plasma membrane profiling approach, we previously identified CD47 as a putative host target downregulated by Vpu. CD47 is a ubiquitously expressed cell surface protein that interacts with the myeloid cell inhibitory receptor signal regulatory protein-alpha (SIRPα) to deliver a "don't-eat-me" signal, thus protecting cells from phagocytosis. In this study, we investigate whether CD47 modulation by HIV-1 Vpu might promote the susceptibility of macrophages to viral infection via phagocytosis of infected CD4+ T cells. Indeed, we find that Vpu downregulates CD47 expression on infected CD4+ T cells, leading to enhanced capture and phagocytosis by macrophages. We further provide evidence that this Vpu-dependent process allows a C-C chemokine receptor type 5 (CCR5)-tropic transmitted/founder (T/F) virus, which otherwise poorly infects macrophages in its cell-free form, to efficiently infect macrophages. Importantly, we show that HIV-1-infected cells expressing a Vpu-resistant CD47 mutant are less prone to infecting macrophages through phagocytosis. Mechanistically, Vpu forms a physical complex with CD47 through its transmembrane domain and targets the latter for lysosomal degradation. These results reveal a novel role of Vpu in modulating macrophage infection, which has important implications for HIV-1 transmission in early stages of infection and the establishment of viral reservoir. IMPORTANCE Macrophages play critical roles in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) transmission, viral spread early in infection, and as a reservoir of virus. Selective capture and engulfment of HIV-1-infected T cells was shown to drive efficient macrophage infection, suggesting that this mechanism represents an important mode of infection notably for weakly macrophage-tropic T/F viruses. In this study, we provide insight into the signals that regulate this process. We show that the HIV-1 accessory protein viral protein U (Vpu) downregulates cell surface levels of CD47, a host protein that interacts with the inhibitory receptor signal regulatory protein-alpha (SIRPα), to deliver a "don't-eat-me" signal to macrophages. This allows for enhanced capture and phagocytosis of infected T cells by macrophages, ultimately leading to their productive infection even with transmitted/founder (T/F) virus. These findings provide new insights into the mechanisms governing the intercellular transmission of HIV-1 to macrophages with implications for the establishment of the macrophage reservoir and early HIV-1 dissemination in vivo.

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