Previous studies have shown that human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) protease cleaves procaspase 8 to a fragment, termed Casp8p41, that lacks caspase activity but nonetheless contributes to T cell apoptosis. Herein, we show that Casp8p41 contains a domain that interacts with the BH3-binding groove of pro-apoptotic Bak to cause Bak oligomerization, Bak-mediated membrane permeabilization, and cell death. Levels of active Bak are higher in HIV-infected T cells that express Casp8p41. Conversely, targeted mutations in the Bak-interacting domain diminish Bak binding and Casp8p41-mediated cell death. Similar mutations in procaspase 8 impair the ability of HIV to kill infected T cells. These observations support a novel paradigm in which HIV converts a normal cellular constituent into a direct activator that functions like a BH3-only protein.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cell Biology