HIV-1 infection requires life-long treatment and with 2.1 million new infections/year, faces the challenge of an increased rate of transmitted drug-resistant mutations. Therefore, a constant and timely effort is needed to identify new HIV-1 inhibitors active against drug-resistant variants. The ribonuclease H (RNase H) activity of HIV-1 reverse transcriptase (RT) is a very promising target, but to date, still lacks an efficient inhibitor. Here, we characterize the mode of action of N'-(2-hydroxy-benzylidene)-3,4,5-trihydroxybenzoylhydrazone (compound 13), an N-acylhydrazone derivative that inhibited viral replication (EC50 = 10 μM), while retaining full potency against the NNRTI-resistant double mutant K103N-Y181C virus. Time-of-addition and biochemical assays showed that compound 13 targeted the reverse-transcription step in cell-based assays and inhibited the RT-associated RNase H function, being >20-fold less potent against the RT polymerase activity. Docking calculations revealed that compound 13 binds within the RNase H domain in a position different from other selective RNase H inhibitors; site-directed mutagenesis studies revealed interactions with conserved amino acid within the RNase H domain, suggesting that compound 13 can be taken as starting point to generate a new series of more potent RNase H selective inhibitors active against circulating drug-resistant variants.
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