HIV-1 protease (PR) is a viral enzyme that cleaves the Gag and Gag-Pol polyprotein precursors to convert them into their functional forms, a process which is essential to generate infectious viral particles. Due to its broad substrate specificity, HIV-1 PR can also cleave certain host cell proteins. Several studies have identified host cell substrates of HIV-1 PR and described the potential impact of their cleavage on HIV-1-infected cells. Of particular interest is the interaction between PR and the caspase recruitment domain-containing protein 8 (CARD8) inflammasome. A recent study demonstrated that CARD8 can sense HIV-1 PR activity and induce cell death. While PR typically has low levels of intracellular activity prior to viral budding, premature PR activation can be achieved using certain non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs), resulting in CARD8 cleavage and downstream pyroptosis. Used together with latency reversal agents, the induction of premature PR activation to trigger CARD8-mediated cell killing may help eliminate latent reservoirs in people living with HIV. This represents a novel strategy of utilizing PR as an antiviral target through premature activation rather than inhibition. In this review, we discuss the viral and host substrates of HIV-1 protease and highlight potential applications and advantages of targeting CARD8 sensing of HIV-1 PR.
- CARD8 inflammasome
- latent reservoir