Background: HIV replication in mononuclear phagocytes is a multi-step process regulated by viral and cellular proteins with the peculiar feature of virion budding and accumulation in intra-cytoplasmic vesicles. Interaction of urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA) with its cell surface receptor (uPAR) has been shown to favor virion accumulation in such subcellular compartment in primary monocyte-derived macrophages and chronically infected promonocytic U1 cells differentiated into macrophage-like cells by stimulation with phorbol myristate acetate (PMA). By adopting this latter model system, we have here investigated which intracellular signaling pathways were triggered by uPA/uPAR interaction leading the redirection of virion accumulation in intra-cytoplasmic vesicles. Results: uPA induced activation of RhoA, PKC delta and PKC epsilon in PMA-differentiated U1 cells. In the same conditions, RhoA, PKC delta and PKC epsilon modulated uPA-induced cell adhesion and polarization, whereas only RhoA and PKC epsilon were also responsible for the redirection of virions in intracellular vesicles. Distribution of G and F actin revealed that uPA reorganized the cytoskeleton in both adherent and polarized cells. The role of G and F actin isoforms was unveiled by the use of cytochalasin D, a cell-permeable fungal toxin that prevents F actin polymerization. Receptor-independent cytoskeleton remodeling by Cytochalasin D resulted in cell adhesion, polarization and intracellular accumulation of HIV virions similar to the effects gained with uPA. Conclusions: These findings illustrate the potential contribution of the uPA/uPAR system in the generation and/or maintenance of intra-cytoplasmic vesicles that actively accumulate virions, thus sustaining the presence of HIV reservoirs of macrophage origin. In addition, our observations also provide evidences that pathways controlling cytoskeleton remodeling and activation of PKC epsilon bear relevance for the design of new antiviral strategies aimed at interfering with the partitioning of virion budding between intra-cytoplasmic vesicles and plasma membrane in infected human macrophages.
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