Small molecule ONC201 inhibits HIV-1 replication in macrophages via FOXO3a and TRAIL.


Department of Pharmacology & Experimental Neuroscience, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE, 68198, United States; Center for Translational Neurodegeneration and Regenerative Therapy, Shanghai Tenth People's Hospital Affiliated to Tongji University School of Medicine, Shanghai, China. Electronic address: [Email]


Despite the success of antiretroviral therapy (ART), eradication of HIV-1 from brain reservoirs remains elusive. HIV-1 brain reservoirs include perivascular macrophages that are behind the blood-brain barrier and difficult to access by ART. Macrophages express transcription factor FOXO3a and the TNF superfamily cytokine TRAIL, which are known to target HIV-1-infected macrophages for viral inhibition. ONC201 is a novel and potent FOXO3a activator capable of inducing TRAIL. It can cross the blood-brain barrier, and has shown antitumor effects in clinical trials. We hypothesized that activation of FOXO3a/TRAIL by ONC201 will inhibit HIV-1 replication in macrophages. Using primary human monocyte-derived macrophages, we demonstrated that ONC201 dose-dependently decreased replication levels of both HIV-1 laboratory strain and primary strains as determined by HIV-1 reverse transcriptase activity assay. Consistent with data on HIV-1 replication, ONC201 also reduced intracellular and extracellular p24, viral RNA, and integrated HIV-1 DNA in infected macrophages. Blocking TRAIL or knockdown of FOXO3a with siRNA reversed ONC201-mediated HIV-1 suppression, suggesting that ONC201 inhibits HIV-1 through FOXO3a and TRAIL. The anti-HIV-1 effect of ONC201 was further validated in vivo in NOD/scid-IL-2Rgcnull mice. After intracranial injection of HIV-1-infected macrophages into the basal ganglia, we treated the mice daily with ONC201 through intraperitoneal injection for six days. ONC201 significantly decreased p24 levels in both the macrophages and the brain tissues, suggesting that ONC201 suppresses HIV-1 in vivo. Therefore, ONC201 can be a promising drug candidate to combat persistent HIV-1 infection in the brain.