Interferon Alpha Enhances NK Cell Function and the Suppressive Capacity of HIV-Specific CD8+ T Cells

J Virol. 2019 Jan 17;93(3):e01541-18. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01541-18. Print 2019 Feb 1.


Current shock-and-kill strategies for the eradication of the HIV-1 reservoir have resulted in blips of viremia but not in a decrease in the size of the latent reservoir in patients on suppressive antiretroviral therapy (ART). This discrepancy could potentially be explained by an inability of the immune system to kill HIV-1-infected cells following the reversal of latency. Furthermore, some studies have suggested that certain latency-reversing agents (LRAs) may inhibit CD8+ T cell and natural killer (NK) cell responses. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that alpha interferon (IFN-α) could improve the function of NK cells from chronic progressors (CP) on ART. We show here that IFN-α treatment enhanced cytokine secretion, polyfunctionality, degranulation, and the cytotoxic potential of NK cells from healthy donors (HD) and CP. We also show that this cytokine enhanced the viral suppressive capacity of NK cells from HD and elite controllers or suppressors. Furthermore, IFN-α enhanced global CP CD8+ T cell cytokine responses and the suppressive capacity of ES CD8+ T cells. Our data suggest that IFN-α treatment may potentially be used as an immunomodulatory agent in HIV-1 cure strategies.IMPORTANCE Data suggest that HIV+ individuals unable to control infection fail to do so due to impaired cytokine production and/cytotoxic effector cell function. Consequently, the success of cure agendas such as the shock-and-kill strategy will probably depend on enhancing patient effector cell function. In this regard, NK cells are of particular interest since they complement the function of CD8+ T cells. Here, we demonstrate the ability of short-course alpha interferon (IFN-α) treatments to effectively enhance such effector functions in chronic progressor NK cells without inhibiting their general CD8+ T cell function. These results point to the possibility of exploring such short-course IFN-α treatments for the enhancement of effector cell function in HIV+ patients in future cure strategies.

Keywords: CD cells; HIV-1; NK cells; interferon alpha.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / virology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cell Degranulation / drug effects
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections / immunology*
  • HIV Infections / virology
  • HIV Seropositivity
  • HIV-1 / drug effects
  • HIV-1 / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Interferon-alpha / pharmacology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / drug effects
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / virology
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Viremia / drug therapy
  • Viremia / immunology*
  • Viremia / virology
  • Virus Latency / drug effects
  • Virus Latency / immunology*


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Cytokines
  • Interferon-alpha