The molecular mechanism(s) by which human immunodeficiency virus (HIV-1) injures a T-cell line was studied. A pathological role for viral env proteins, which are inserted into the plasma membrane, has been previously demonstrated for HIV as well as other retroviruses which are cytopathic. We therefore initiated studies examining whether perturbations of the cell membrane or membrane-associated biochemical events may be occurring in cells acutely infected with HIV and whether such perturbations, if present, may be responsible for cytopathology. A human T-cell line (ERIC), which is sensitive to the cytopathic effects of HIVs, was infected with HTLV-IIIB and its membrane permeability to cations and its lipid metabolism were studied coincident with the peak expression of viral p24 and with the first sign of cytopathology (slowing of cell division) 72 to 96 hr after infection. It was found that the rate of influx of Ca2+ into the cell increased over that of uninfected cells and that phospholipid synthesis, primarily phosphatidylcholine, became depressed. Diacylglycerol, which serves both as an intermediate for synthesis of phospholipids and as a second-messenger for lymphocyte activation, was also greatly reduced. However, triglyceride synthesis was enhanced, indicating that not all lipid metabolic pathways were being shut down. This decreased membrane-synthetic ability and reduced second-messenger for cell division are likely to be important causes of HIV-1 cytopathology in ERIC cells. This hypothesis was supported by our finding that HIV cytopathology of ERIC cells could be partially prevented by treatment with compounds (diacylglyceride or PMA and transiently by oleic acid) which either replenish diacylglycerol in the infected cell and/or activate protein kinase C or phosphocholine cytidyltransferase, the latter being the rate-limiting step in synthesis of the major structural phospholipid in most cells.
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