HIV-1 transcription is induced by viral Tat protein, which recruits transcriptional co-activators to the HIV-1 promoter. We recently showed that Tat is phosphorylated in the Ser16 and Ser 46 residues by protein kinase CDK2 and that mutations in these residues prevent HIV-1 transcription and viral replication [1]. We also found that iron depletion by iron chelators inhibits cellular activity of CDK2, prevents Tat phosphorylation and inhibits HIV-1 transcription [2]. Thus our previous studies suggest that a decrease in cellular iron might have a protective effect against HIV-1 through inhibition of CDK2 and Tat phosphorylation. Here, we analyzed the effect of the iron exporter, ferroportin, on HIV-1 transcription and viral replication. Increased expression of ferroportin by transfection in iron-treated 293T cells significantly reduced ferritin protein levels compared to increased expression of CD4 or EGFP in iron-treated cells as controls. Treatment with hepcidin increased ferritin levels in 293T cells that expressed wild type ferroportin but not the C326Y mutant of ferroprotin which is not sensitive to hepcidin. Expression of both wild type ferroportin and the C326Y mutant in 293T cells significantly inhibited HIV-1 transcription. Treatment with hepcidin partially restored HIV-1 transcription in the cells expressing wild type ferroportin and not in those expressing the C326Y mutant of ferroportin. Treatment of promonocytic THP-1 cells with iron increased cellular ferritin level. Subsequent treatment with phorbol myristate acetate (PMA) led to increased expression of ferroportin and reduced ferritin level, and this reduction in ferritin was partially alleviated by exposing the cells to hepcidin. Thus, PMA appeared to reduce intracellular iron through increased iron export by ferroportin. HIV-1 replication in iron-supplemented THP-1 cells or primary human monocytes was significantly reduced by treatment with PMA. Subsequent exposure of the PMA-treated monocytes to hepcidin partially restored HIV-1 replication, suggesting that HIV-1 was inhibited in part by the expression of ferroportin and its associated iron-exporting activity. Taken together, our results indicate that expression of ferroportin leads to reduction of cellular iron and also reduced HIV-1 transcription and replication, and that exposure to hepcidin may lead to increased cellular iron content and enhancement of HIV-1 replication. Thus our results suggest that iron depletion of cells that harbor HIV might serve as a strategy to combat this infection, and they point to the need to develop iron chelators specifically designed for HIV-1 therapy.

Disclosures: Gordeuk:Actelion: Research Funding; Biomarin: Research Funding; Ikaria: Consultancy.

Acknowledgments. This work was supported by NHLBI Research Grant 2 R25 HL003679-08 from the National Institutes of Health and The Office of Research on Minority Health.


Ammosova, T., Berro, R., Jerebtsova, M., Jackson, A., Charles, S., Klase, Z., Southerland, W., Gordeuk, V. R., Kashanchi, F. & Nekhai, S. (
) Phosphorylation of HIV-1 Tat by CDK2 in HIV-1 transcription,
Debebe, Z., Ammosova, T., Jerebtsova, M., Kurantsin-Mills, J., Niu, X., Charles, S., Richardson, D. R., Ray, P. E., Gordeuk, V. R. & Nekhai, S. (
) Iron chelators ICL670 and 311 inhibit HIV-1 transcription,

Author notes

Corresponding author