A compartmentalized type I interferon response in the gut during chronic HIV-1 infection is associated with immunopathogenesis

AIDS. 2018 Jul 31;32(12):1599-1611. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001863.


Objective(s): Type I interferon (IFN-I) responses confer both protective and pathogenic effects in persistent virus infections. IFN-I diversity, stage of infection and tissue compartment may account for this dichotomy. The gut is a major site of early HIV-1 replication and microbial translocation, but the nature of the IFN-I response in this compartment remains unclear.

Design: Samples were obtained from two IRB-approved cross-sectional studies. The first study included individuals with chronic, untreated HIV-1 infection (n = 24) and age/sex-balanced uninfected controls (n = 14). The second study included antiretroviral-treated, HIV-1-infected individuals (n = 15) and uninfected controls (n = 15).

Methods: The expression of 12 IFNα subtypes, IFNβ and antiviral IFN-stimulated genes (ISGs) were quantified in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and colon biopsies using real-time PCR and next-generation sequencing. In untreated HIV-1-infected individuals, associations between IFN-I responses and gut HIV-1 RNA levels as well as previously established measures of colonic and systemic immunological indices were determined.

Results: IFNα1, IFNα2, IFNα4, IFNα5 and IFNα8 were upregulated in PBMCs during untreated chronic HIV-1 infection, but IFNβ was undetectable. By contrast, IFNβ was upregulated and all IFNα subtypes were downregulated in gut tissue. Gut ISG levels positively correlated with gut HIV-1 RNA and immune activation, microbial translocation and inflammation markers. Gut IFN-I responses were not significantly different between HIV-1-infected individuals on antiretroviral treatment and uninfected controls.

Conclusion: The IFN-I response is compartmentalized during chronic untreated HIV-1 infection, with IFNβ being more predominant in the gut. Gut IFN-I responses are associated with immunopathogenesis, and viral replication is likely a major driver of this response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biopsy
  • Colon / pathology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • HIV Infections / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / analysis*
  • Interferon Type I / analysis*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / pathology*
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Young Adult


  • Immunologic Factors
  • Interferon Type I