The lack of a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) cure has heightened interest in immunotherapy. As such, type I interferons (IFNs), in particular, IFN alpha (IFN-α), have gained renewed attention. However, HIV pathogenesis is driven by sustained IFN-mediated immune activation, and the use of IFNs is rather controversial. The following questions therein remain: (i) which IFN-α subtype to use, (ii) at which regimen, and (iii) at what time point in HIV infection it might be beneficial. Here, we used IFN-α14 modified by PASylation for its long half-life in vivo to eventually treat HIV infection. We defined the IFN dosing regimen based on the maximum increase in interferon-stimulated gene (ISG) expression 6 h after its administration and a return to baseline of ubiquitin-specific protease 18 (USP18) prior to the next dose. Notably, USP18 is the major negative regulator of type I IFN signaling. HIV infection resulted in increased ISG expression levels in humanized mice. Intriguingly, high baseline ISG levels correlated with lower HIV load. No effect was observed on HIV replication when PASylated IFN-α14 was administered in the chronic phase. However, combined antiretroviral therapy (cART) restored responsiveness to IFN, and PASylated IFN-α14 administered during analytical cART interruption resulted in a transiently lower HIV burden than in the mock-treated mice. In conclusion, cART-mediated HIV suppression restored transient IFN responsiveness and provided a potential window for immunoenhancing therapies in the context of analytical cART interruption. IMPORTANCE cART is highly efficient in suppressing HIV replication in HIV-infected patients and has resulted in a dramatic reduction in morbidity and mortality in HIV-infected people, yet it does not cure HIV infection. In addition, cART has several disadvantages. Thus, the HIV research community is exploring novel ways to control HIV infection for longer periods without cART. Here, we explored novel, long-acting IFN-α14 for its efficacy to control HIV replication in HIV-infected humanized mice. We found that IFN-α14 had no effect on chronic HIV infection. However, when mice were treated first with cART, we observed a transiently restored responsiveness to INF and a transiently lower HIV burden after stopping cART. These data emphasize (i) the value of cART-mediated HIV suppression and immune reconstitution in creating a window of opportunity for exploring novel immunotherapies, (ii) the potential of IFNs for constraining HIV, and (iii) the value of humanized mice for exploring novel immunotherapies.
Keywords: HIV; IFN-alpha 12; IFN-alpha 14; PASylation; analytical treatment interruption; humanized mice; immunotherapy; long acting.