Although several studies are available on the in vitro inhibitory activities of type I interferon (IFN) on HIV-1 replication, the role of these cytokines in the pathogenesis of AIDS is still matter of conjecture. Both beneficial and adverse effects have been envisaged and considered as a possible rationale for the development of either IFN or anti-IFN therapies in HIV-1-infected patients. In the present study, we have evaluated the efficacy of human type I IFN on HIV-1 infection and virus-induced depletion of human CD4 T cells in two models established in SCID mice. In SCID mice transplanted with human U937 cells (U937-SCID mouse model), continuous treatment with type I consensus IFN (CIFN) resulted in a total suppression of HIV-1 infection. This inhibitory effect was superior to that obtained after AZT treatments. Results from an ensemble of experiments in SCID mice transplanted with either control or genetically modified human U937 cells transduced with a Tat-inducible IFN-alpha gene (LTR-IFN-A2 U937) indicated that low levels of IFN-alpha, produced locally as a result of virus infection, were extremely effective in inhibiting acute HIV infection and virus replication. Of interest, LTR-IFN-A2 U937 cells conferred a strong anti-HIV-1 protection to coinjected bystander U937 cells. Notably, experiments with SCID mice reconstituted with human PBL (hu-PBL-SCID mouse model) showed that treatment with CIFN inhibited HIV-1 replication more effectively than AZT treatment. Remarkably, treatment with CIFN resulted in a clear-cut protection from the virus-induced depletion of human CD4 T cells, which was also associated with the generation of an antibody response toward HIV-1 antigens in 50% of the virus-injected xenografts. These results suggest that type I IFN efficiently preserves human CD4(+) cells from virus-induced damage in hu-PBL-SCID mice, not only by inducing an antiviral state in target cells but also by stimulating anti-HIV-1 human immune responses in vivo.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.