The hypothesis that open conformers of HLA-C on target cells might directly exert an effect on their infectability by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has been suggested previously. This was tested by exploiting the peculiar specificity of monoclonal antibody (mAb) L31 for HLA-C open conformers to show that normal levels of Env-driven fusion were restored in HLA-C transfectants of a major histocompatibility complex-deleted (fusion-incompetent) cell line. The physiological relevance of this finding is now confirmed in this report, where small interfering RNA (siRNA) technology was used to silence HLA-C expression in peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBLs) from 11 healthy donors. Infectability by HIV (strains IIIB and Bal and primary isolates) was significantly reduced (P=0.016) in silenced cells compared with cells that maintained HLA-C expression in 10 of the 11 PBL donors. Normal infectability was resumed, together with HLA-C expression, when the effect of siRNA interference waned after several days in culture. Additional confirmation of the HLA-C effect was obtained in several assays employing HLA-C-positive and -negative cell lines, a number of HIV strains and also pseudoviruses. In particular, viruses pseudotyped with env genes from HIV strains AC10 and QH0692.42 were assayed on siRNA-silenced lymphocytes from three healthy donors: the differences in infection with pseudoviruses were even higher than those observed in infections with normal viruses.
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