Journal Article

HIV-1 establishes a sanctuary site in the testis by permeating the BTB through changes in cytoskeletal organization

Studies suggest that HIV-1 invades the testis through permeation of the blood-testis barrier (BTB). The selectivity of the BTB to antiretroviral drugs makes this site a sanctuary for the virus. Little is known about how HIV-1 crosses the BTB and invades the testis. Herein, we used two approaches to examine the underlying mechanism(s) by which HIV-1 permeates the BTB and gains entry into the seminiferous epithelium. First, we examined if recombinant Tat protein was capable of perturbing the BTB and making the barrier leaky, using the primary rat Sertoli cell in vitro model that mimics the BTB in vivo. Second, we used HIV-1 infected Sup-T1 cells to investigate the activity of HIV-1 infection on co-cultured Sertoli cells. Using both approaches, we found that the Sertoli cell tight junction (TJ)-permeability barrier was considerably perturbed and that HIV-1 effectively permeates the BTB by inducing actin-, microtubule-, vimentin- and septin-based cytoskeletal changes in Sertoli cells. These studies suggest that HIV-1 directly perturbs BTB function, potentially through the activity of the Tat protein.