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JCI Insight. 2016 Dec 8;1(20):e88255. doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.88255.

IFN-ε protects primary macrophages against HIV infection.

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Department of Microbiology, Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics and.
Public Health Research Institute, Rutgers University, New Jersey Medical School, Newark, New Jersey, USA.
Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
Department of Microbiology, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York, USA.


IFN-ε is a unique type I IFN that is not induced by pattern recognition response elements. IFN-ε is constitutively expressed in mucosal tissues, including the female genital mucosa. Although the direct antiviral activity of IFN-ε was thought to be weak compared with IFN-α, IFN-ε controls Chlamydia muridarum and herpes simplex virus 2 in mice, possibly through modulation of immune response. We show here that IFN-ε induces an antiviral state in human macrophages that blocks HIV-1 replication. IFN-ε had little or no protective effect in activated CD4+ T cells or transformed cell lines unless activated CD4+ T cells were infected with replication-competent HIV-1 at a low MOI. The block to HIV infection of macrophages was maximal after 24 hours of treatment and was reversible. IFN-ε acted on early stages of the HIV life cycle, including viral entry, reverse transcription, and nuclear import. The protection did not appear to operate through known type I IFN-induced HIV host restriction factors, such as APOBEC3A and SAMHD1. IFN-ε-stimulated immune mediators and pathways had the signature of type I IFNs but were distinct from IFN-α in macrophages. IFN-ε induced significant phagocytosis and ROS, which contributed to the block to HIV replication. These findings indicate that IFN-ε induces an antiviral state in macrophages that is mediated by different factors than those induced by IFN-α. Understanding the mechanism of IFN-ε-mediated HIV inhibition through immune modulation has implications for prevention.

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