Interferon-α alters host glycosylation machinery during treated HIV infection

EBioMedicine. 2020 Sep;59:102945. doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2020.102945. Epub 2020 Aug 19.


Background: A comprehensive understanding of host factors modulated by the antiviral cytokine interferon-α (IFNα) is imperative for harnessing its beneficial effects while avoiding its detrimental side-effects during HIV infection. Cytokines modulate host glycosylation which plays a critical role in mediating immunological functions. However, the impact of IFNα on host glycosylation has never been characterized.

Methods: We assessed the impact of pegylated IFNα2a on IgG glycome, as well as CD8+ T and NK cell-surface glycomes, of 18 HIV-infected individuals on suppressive antiretroviral therapy. We linked these glycomic signatures to changes in inflammation, CD8+ T and NK cell phenotypes, and HIV DNA.

Findings: We identified significant interactions that support a model in which a) IFNα increases the proportion of pro-inflammatory, bisecting GlcNAc glycans (known to enhance FcγR binding) within the IgG glycome, which in turn b) increases inflammation, which c) leads to poor CD8+ T cell phenotypes and poor IFNα-mediated reduction of HIV DNA. Examining cell-surface glycomes, IFNα increases levels of the immunosuppressive GalNAc-containing glycans (T/Tn antigens) on CD8+ T cells. This induction is associated with lower HIV-gag-specific CD8+ T cell functions. Last, IFNα increases levels of fucose on NK cells. This induction is associated with higher NK functions upon K562 stimulation.

Interpretation: IFNα causes host glycomic alterations that are known to modulate immunological responses. These alterations are associated with both detrimental and beneficial consequences of IFNα. Manipulating host glycomic interactions may represent a strategy for enhancing the positive effects of IFNα while avoiding its detrimental side-effects.

Funding: NIH grants R21AI143385, U01AI110434.

Keywords: CD8(+)T cells; Glycosylation; HIV; IgG; Interferon; NK cells.

MeSH terms

  • Antiretroviral Therapy, Highly Active
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology*
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Glycosylation / drug effects
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections / immunology
  • HIV Infections / metabolism*
  • HIV Infections / virology*
  • HIV-1 / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / immunology
  • Immunoglobulin G / metabolism
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism
  • Interferon-alpha / pharmacology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / drug effects
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / metabolism
  • Lymphocyte Count
  • Polysaccharides / metabolism


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Cytokines
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Interferon-alpha
  • Polysaccharides