Highly active antiretroviral therapy has significantly improved the life of HIV-1-infected individuals, yet complete eradication of HIV-1 reservoirs (i.e., latently infected cells) remains a major challenge. We have previously shown that induction of the endogenous cytoprotective enzyme heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) by its natural substrate hemin reduces susceptibility of T cells and macrophages to HIV-1 infection. In the present study, we demonstrate that hemin treatment stimulated virus production by latently infected ACH-2 cells, followed by cellular toxicity and death when stimulated with TNF-α or co-cultured with monocyte-derived macrophages (MDM). This cytotoxicity was associated with low levels of the iron-binding protein ferritin and the iron transporter ferroportin with lack of hemoglobin catabolic enzyme HO-1, resulting in substantial iron accumulation in the activated ACH-2 cells. Defective iron homeostasis in ACH-2 cells provides a model system for selective targeting of the latent HIV-1 reservoir by hemin-induced iron toxicity.
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