BACKGROUNDProthymosin α (ProTα) (isoform 2: iso2) is a widely distributed, small acidic protein with intracellular and extracellular-associated functions. Recently, we identified two new ProTα variants with potent anti-HIV activity from CD8+ T cells and cervicovaginal lavage. The first is a splice variant of the ProTα gene known as isoB and the second is the product of ProTα pseudogene 7 (p7). Similarly to iso2, the anti-HIV activity of both variants is mediated by type I IFN. Here we tested whether the immunomodulatory activity of isoB and p7 are also TLR4 dependent and determined their kinetic of release in response to HIV-1 infection.METHODSType I, type III, TNF-α and IL-6 mRNA inducing activity was determined in macrophages from wild type and TLR4 knockout mice treated with recombinant ProTα variants. Supernatants from mock and HIV infected cells were analyzed by mass spectrometry in positive and negative modes for the presence of ProTα variants. In silico structural and functional analysis of ProTα variants were performed.RESULTSWe show that both isoB and p7 upregulate IFN-β, IFN-λ1, IL-6, TNF-α and RANTES mRNAs in primary human macrophages. The potent stimulation of IFN-β by the recombinant ProTα variants in human macrophages is dependent on the TLR4 pathway, whereas the induction of TNF-α and IL-6 may also occur independently of TLR4, suggesting the interaction of ProTα variants with other signaling molecules/receptors. In silico analyses confirmed that the novel isoB and p7 variants are intrinsically disordered proteins, which lack the NLS and mass spectrometry showed release of ProTα variants within minutes post HIV-1 infection. These features are consistent with the function of ProTα variants as damage associate molecular patterns (DAMPs).CONCLUSIONSOur findings indicate that ProTα variants strongly inhibit viral replication mainly, but not exclusively, through TLR4 signaling and that they are released within minutes of viral infection suggesting that they may function as DAMPs.