Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) persists in a latent state within resting CD4 + T cells of infected persons treated with highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). This reservoir must be eliminated for the clearance of infection. Using a cDNA library screen, we have identified methyl-CpG binding domain protein 2 (MBD2) as a regulator of HIV-1 latency. Two CpG islands flank the HIV-1 transcription start site and are methylated in latently infected Jurkat cells and primary CD4 + T cells. MBD2 and histone deacetylase 2 (HDAC2) are found at one of these CpG islands during latency. Inhibition of cytosine methylation with 5-aza-2′deoxycytidine (aza-CdR) abrogates recruitment of MBD2 and HDAC2. Furthermore, aza-CdR potently synergizes with the NF-κB activators prostratin or TNF-α to reactivate latent HIV-1. These observations confirm that cytosine methylation and MBD2 are epigenetic regulators of HIV-1 latency. Clearance of HIV-1 from infected persons may be enhanced by inclusion of DNA methylation inhibitors, such as aza-CdR, and NF-κB activators into current antiviral therapies.
Current drug therapies inhibit replication of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In patients undergoing these therapies, the amount of HIV is reduced to an undetectable level and HIV-related disease subsides. However, stopping antiviral drug therapy results in the quick return of HIV and of disease. One reason for this is latently infected cells, in which virus replication is temporarily halted. When drug therapy is stopped, virus from these latently infected cells can resume infection and spread to other cells in the patient, resulting in the return of disease. Here, we demonstrate that one mechanism of latency is DNA methylation, in which chemical groups called methyl groups are added to HIV DNA. We also identify a host protein called methyl-CpG binding domain protein 2 (MBD2) that binds methylated HIV DNA and is an important mediator of latency. Furthermore, we demonstrate that a drug that inhibits DNA methylation potently reactivates latent HIV. Novel strategies to eliminate or reduce the latent reservoir are necessary. Our findings may prove useful in the development of novel therapies to efficiently reactivate latent HIV-1, thus making it susceptible to current drug therapies.