Current treatments against the Aquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) are reasonably effective in reducing the amount of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) present in infected patients, but their side-effects, and the emergence of drug-resistant HIV strains have intensified the renewed search for novel anti-HIV therapies. An essential step in HIV infection is the integration of the viral genome into the host cell chromosomes within the nucleus. Unlike other retroviruses, HIV can transport its genetic material, in the form of the large nucleoprotein pre-integration complex (PIC), into the nucleus through the intact nuclear envelope (NE). This enables HIV to infect non-dividing cells such as macrophages and microglial cells. Detailed knowledge of the signal-dependent pathways by which cellular proteins and RNAs cross the NE has accumulated in the past decade, but although several different components of the PIC have been implicated in its nuclear import, the mechanism of nuclear entry remains unclear. Since specifically inhibiting PIC nuclear import would undoubtedly block HIV infection in non-dividing cells, this critical step of HIV replication is of great interest as a drug target. This review examines the complex and controversial literature regarding three PIC components - the HIV proteins matrix, integrase and Vpr - proposed to facilitate PIC nuclear import, and existing models of HIV PIC nuclear import. It also suggests approaches to move towards a better understanding of PIC nuclear import, through examining the role of individual PIC components in the context of the intact PIC by direct visualisation, in order to develop new anti-HIV therapeutics.
Keywords: nuclear import, pre-integration complex, aquired immune deficiency syndrome, human immunodeficiency virus, retroviruses, pic components, anti-hiv therapeutics