Drug-Based Lead Discovery: The Novel Ablative Antiretroviral Profile of Deferiprone in HIV-1-Infected Cells and in HIV-Infected Treatment-Naive Subjects of a Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Randomized Exploratory Trial

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Plos One


Antiretrovirals suppress HIV-1 production yet spare the sites of HIV-1 production, the HIV-1 DNA-harboring cells that evade immune detection and enable viral resistance on-drug and viral rebound off-drug. Therapeutic ablation of pathogenic cells markedly improves the outcome of many diseases. We extend this strategy to HIV-1 infection. Using drug-based lead discovery, we report the concentration threshold-dependent antiretroviral action of the medicinal chelator deferiprone and validate preclinical findings by a proof-of-concept double-blind trial. In isolate-infected primary cultures, supra-threshold concentrations during deferiprone monotherapy caused decline of HIV-1 RNA and HIV-1 DNA; did not allow viral breakthrough for up to 35 days on-drug, indicating resiliency against viral resistance; and prevented, for at least 87 days off-drug, viral rebound. Displaying a steep dose-effect curve, deferiprone produced infection-independent deficiency of hydroxylated hypusyl-eIF5A. However, unhydroxylated deoxyhypusyl-eIF5A accumulated particularly in HIV-infected cells; they preferentially underwent apoptotic DNA fragmentation. Since the threshold, ascertained at about 150 mu M, is achievable in deferiprone-treated patients, we proceeded from cell culture directly to an exploratory trial. HIV-1 RNA was measured after 7 days on-drug and after 28 and 56 days off-drug. Subjects who attained supra-threshold concentrations in serum and completed the protocol of 17 oral doses, experienced a zidovudine-like decline of HIV-1 RNA on-drug that was maintained off-drug without statistically significant rebound for 8 weeks, over 670 times the drug's half-life and thus clearance from circulation. The uniform deferiprone threshold is in agreement with mapping of, and crystallographic 3D-data on, the active site of deoxyhypusyl hydroxylase (DOHH), the eIF5A-hydroxylating enzyme. We propose that deficiency of hypusine-containing eIF5A impedes the translation of mRNAs encoding proline cluster ('polyproline')-containing proteins, exemplified by Gag/p24, and facilitated by the excess of deoxyhypusine-containing eIF5A, releases the innate apoptotic defense of HIV-infected cells from viral blockade, thus depleting the cellular reservoir of HIV-1 DNA that drives breakthrough and rebound.