The Envelope Gene of Transmitted HIV-1 Resists a Late Interferon Gamma-Induced Block

J Virol. 2017 Mar 13;91(7):e02254-16. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02254-16. Print 2017 Apr 1.


Type I interferon (IFN) signaling engenders an antiviral state that likely plays an important role in constraining HIV-1 transmission and contributes to defining subsequent AIDS pathogenesis. Type II IFN (IFN-γ) also induces an antiviral state but is often primarily considered to be an immunomodulatory cytokine. We report that IFN-γ stimulation can induce an antiviral state that can be both distinct from that of type I interferon and can potently inhibit HIV-1 in primary CD4+ T cells and a number of human cell lines. Strikingly, we find that transmitted/founder (TF) HIV-1 viruses can resist a late block that is induced by type II IFN, and the use of chimeric IFN-γ-sensitive/resistant viruses indicates that interferon resistance maps to the env gene. Simultaneously, in vitro evolution also revealed that just a single amino acid substitution in the envelope can confer substantial resistance to IFN-mediated inhibition. Thus, the env gene of transmitted HIV-1 confers resistance to a late block that is phenotypically distinct from blocks previously described to be resisted by env and is therefore mediated by unknown IFN-γ-stimulated factor(s) in human CD4+ T cells and cell lines. This important unidentified block could play a key role in constraining HIV-1 transmission.IMPORTANCE The human immune system can hinder invading pathogens through interferon (IFN) signaling. One consequence of this signaling is that cells enter an antiviral state, increasing the levels of hundreds of defenses that can inhibit the replication and spread of viruses. The majority of HIV-1 infections result from a single virus particle (the transmitted/founder) that makes it past these defenses and colonizes the host. Thus, the founder virus is hypothesized to be a relatively interferon-resistant entity. Here, we show that certain HIV-1 envelope genes have the unanticipated ability to resist specific human defenses mediated by different types of interferons. Strikingly, the envelope gene from a founder HIV-1 virus is far better at evading these defenses than the corresponding gene from a common HIV-1 lab strain. Thus, these defenses could play a role in constraining the transmission of HIV-1 and may select for transmitted viruses that are resistant to this IFN-mediated inhibition.

Keywords: HIV-1; envelope; interferons; restriction factors; transmitted/founder; type II interferon.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Amino Acid Substitution
  • Base Sequence
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / virology
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • HEK293 Cells
  • HIV-1 / genetics
  • HIV-1 / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / physiology*
  • Primary Cell Culture
  • Virus Internalization
  • Virus Replication
  • env Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus / genetics*
  • env Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus / immunology


  • env Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus
  • Interferon-gamma