Deubiquitinases (DUBs) are key regulators of complex cellular processes. HIV-1 Tat is synthesized early after infection and is mainly responsible for enhancing viral production. Here, we report that one of the DUBs, USP7, stabilized the HIV-1 Tat protein through its deubiquitination. Treatment with either a general DUB inhibitor (PR-619) or USP7-specific inhibitor (P5091) resulted in Tat protein degradation. The USP7-specific inhibitor reduced virus production in a latently infected T-lymphocytic cell line J1.1, which produces large amounts of HIV-1 upon stimulation. A potent increase in Tat-mediated HIV-1 production was observed with USP7 in a dose-dependent manner. As expected, deletion of the USP7 gene using the CRISPR-Cas9 method reduced the Tat protein and supported less virus production. Interestingly, the levels of endogenous USP7 increased after HIV-1 infection in human T-cells (MOLT-3) and in mammalian cells transfected with HIV-1 proviral DNA. Thus, HIV-1 Tat is stabilized by the host cell deubiquitinase USP7, leading to enhanced viral production, and HIV-1 in turn up-regulates the USP7 protein level.

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