The human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV) establishes a chronic infection that can be well controlled, but not cured, by combined antiretroviral therapy (cART). Interventions have been explored to accomplish a functional cure, meaning that a patient remains infected but HIV is undetectable in the blood, with the aim of allowing patients to live without cART. Tat, the viral transactivator of transcription protein, plays a critical role in controlling HIV transcription, latency, and viral rebound following the interruption of cART treatment. Therefore, a logical approach for controlling HIV would be to block Tat. Tackling Tat with inhibitors has been a difficult task, but some recent discoveries hold promise. Two anti-HIV proteins, Nullbasic (a mutant of Tat) and HT1 (a fusion of HEXIM1 and Tat functional domains) inhibit viral transcription by interfering with the interaction of Tat and cellular factors. Two small molecules, didehydro-cortistatin A (dCA) and triptolide, inhibit Tat by different mechanisms: dCA through direct binding and triptolide through enhanced proteasomal degradation. Finally, two Tat-based vaccines under development elicit Tat-neutralizing antibodies. These vaccines have increased the levels of CD4+
cells and reduced viral loads in HIV-infected people, suggesting that the new vaccines are therapeutic. This review summarizes recent developments of anti-Tat agents and how they could contribute to a functional cure for HIV.
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