Qualitative Differences Between the IFNα subtypes and IFNβ Influence Chronic Mucosal HIV-1 Pathogenesis

PLoS Pathog. 2020 Oct 16;16(10):e1008986. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1008986. eCollection 2020 Oct.


The Type I Interferons (IFN-Is) are innate antiviral cytokines that include 12 different IFNα subtypes and IFNβ that signal through the IFN-I receptor (IFNAR), inducing hundreds of IFN-stimulated genes (ISGs) that comprise the 'interferome'. Quantitative differences in IFNAR binding correlate with antiviral activity, but whether IFN-Is exhibit qualitative differences remains controversial. Moreover, the IFN-I response is protective during acute HIV-1 infection, but likely pathogenic during the chronic stages. To gain a deeper understanding of the IFN-I response, we compared the interferomes of IFNα subtypes dominantly-expressed in HIV-1-exposed plasmacytoid dendritic cells (1, 2, 5, 8 and 14) and IFNβ in the earliest cellular targets of HIV-1 infection. Primary gut CD4 T cells from 3 donors were treated for 18 hours ex vivo with individual IFN-Is normalized for IFNAR signaling strength. Of 1,969 IFN-regulated genes, 246 'core ISGs' were induced by all IFN-Is tested. However, many IFN-regulated genes were not shared between the IFNα subtypes despite similar induction of canonical antiviral ISGs such as ISG15, RSAD2 and MX1, formally demonstrating qualitative differences between the IFNα subtypes. Notably, IFNβ induced a broader interferome than the individual IFNα subtypes. Since IFNβ, and not IFNα, is upregulated during chronic HIV-1 infection in the gut, we compared core ISGs and IFNβ-specific ISGs from colon pinch biopsies of HIV-1-uninfected (n = 13) versus age- and gender-matched, antiretroviral-therapy naïve persons with HIV-1 (PWH; n = 19). Core ISGs linked to inflammation, T cell activation and immune exhaustion were elevated in PWH, positively correlated with plasma lipopolysaccharide (LPS) levels and gut IFNβ levels, and negatively correlated with gut CD4 T cell frequencies. In sharp contrast, IFNβ-specific ISGs linked to protein translation and anti-inflammatory responses were significantly downregulated in PWH, negatively correlated with gut IFNβ and LPS, and positively correlated with plasma IL6 and gut CD4 T cell frequencies. Our findings reveal qualitative differences in interferome induction by diverse IFN-Is and suggest potential mechanisms for how IFNβ may drive HIV-1 pathogenesis in the gut.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Dendritic Cells / drug effects
  • Dendritic Cells / pathology*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / drug effects
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / pathology*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections / pathology*
  • HIV Infections / virology
  • HIV-1 / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Interferon-alpha / classification
  • Interferon-alpha / pharmacology*
  • Interferon-beta / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Young Adult


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Interferon-alpha
  • Interferon-beta