Autophagy is a lysosomal-dependent degradative mechanism essential in maintaining cellular homeostasis, but it is also considered an ancient form of innate eukaryotic fighting against invading microorganisms. Mounting evidence has shown that HIV-1 is a critical target of autophagy that plays a role in HIV-1 replication and disease progression. In a special subset of HIV-1-infected patients that spontaneously and durably maintain extremely low viral replication, namely, long-term nonprogressors (LTNP), the resistance to HIV-1-induced pathogenesis is accompanied, in vivo, by a significant increase in the autophagic activity in peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Recently, a new player in the battle of autophagy against HIV-1 has been identified, namely, tripartite motif protein 5α (TRIM5α). In vitro data demonstrated that TRIM5α directly recognizes HIV-1 and targets it for autophagic destruction, thus protecting cells against HIV-1 infection. In this paper, we analyzed the involvement of this factor in the control of HIV-1 infection through autophagy, in vivo, in LTNP. The results obtained showed significantly higher levels of TRIM5α expression in cells from LTNP with respect to HIV-1-infected normal progressor patients. Interestingly, the colocalization of TRIM5α and HIV-1 proteins in autophagic vacuoles in LTNP cells suggested the participation of TRIM5α in the autophagy containment of HIV-1 in LTNP. Altogether, our results point to a protective role of TRIM5α in the successful control of the chronic viral infection in HIV-1-controllers through the autophagy mechanism. In our opinion, these findings could be relevant in fighting against HIV-1 disease, because autophagy inducers might be employed in combination with antiretroviral drugs.
- long-term nonprogressors
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