Infection with human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) causes an inexorable depletion of CD4+ T cells. The loss of these cells is particularly pronounced in the mucosal immune system during acute infection, and the data suggest that direct viral cytopathicity is a major factor. Cell cycle arrest caused by the HIV-1 accessory protein Vpr is strongly correlated with virus-induced cell death, and phosphorylation of Vpr serine 79 (S79) is required to activate G2/M cell cycle blockade. However, the kinase responsible for phosphorylating Vpr remains unknown. Our bioinformatic analyses revealed that S79 is part of a putative phosphorylation site recognized by protein kinase A (PKA). We show here that PKA interacts with Vpr and directly phosphorylates S79. Inhibition of PKA activity during HIV-1 infection abrogates Vpr cell cycle arrest. These findings provide new insight into the signaling event that activates Vpr cell cycle arrest, ultimately leading to the death of infected T cells.
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