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Inhibitors of the HIV aspartyl protease [HIV protease inhibitors (HIV-PIs)] are the cornerstone of treatment for HIV. Beyond their well-defined antiretroviral activity, these drugs have additional effects that modulate cell viability and homeostasis. However, little is known about the virus-independent pathways engaged by these molecules. Here we show that the HIV-PI Nelfinavir decreases translation rates and promotes a transcriptional program characteristic of the integrated stress response (ISR). Mice treated with Nelfinavir display hallmarks of this stress response in the liver, including α subunit of translation initiation factor 2 (eIF2α) phosphorylation, activating transcription factor-4 (ATF4) induction, and increased expression of known downstream targets. Mechanistically, Nelfinavir-mediated ISR bypassed direct activation of the eIF2α stress kinases and instead relied on the inhibition of the constitutive eIF2α dephosphorylation and down-regulation of the phophatase cofactor CReP (Constitutive Repressor of eIF2α Phosphorylation; also known as PPP1R15B). These findings demonstrate that the modulation of eIF2α-specific phosphatase cofactor activity can be a rheostat of cellular homeostasis that initiates a functional ISR and suggest that the HIV-PIs could be repositioned as therapeutics in human diseases to modulate translation rates and stress responses.

Original publication




Journal article


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Publication Date





E117 - E126