Reducing IRF-1 to levels observed in HESN subjects limits HIV replication, but not the extent of Host immune activation.
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Cells from women who are epidemiologically deemed resistant to HIV infection exhibit a 40–60% reduction in endogenous IRF-1 (interferon regulatory factor-1), an essential regulator of host antiviral immunity and the early HIV replication. This study examined the functional consequences of reducing endogenous IRF-1 on HIV-1 replication and immune response to HIV in natural HIV target cells. IRF-1 knockdown was achieved in ex vivo CD4 + T cells and monocytes with siRNA. IRF-1 level was assessed using flow cytometry, prior to infection with HIV-Bal, HIV-IIIB, or HIV-VSV-G. Transactivation of HIV long terminal repeats was assessed by p24 secretion (ELISA) and Gag expression (reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT–PCR)). The expression of IRF-1–regulated antiviral genes was quantitated with RT–PCR. A modest 20–40% reduction in endogenous IRF-1 was achieved in >87% of ex vivo– derived peripheral CD4 + T cells and monocytes, resulted in >90% reduction in the transactivation of the HIV-1 genes (Gag, p24) and, hence, HIV replication. Curiously, these HIV-resistant women demonstrated normal immune responses, nor an increased susceptibility to other infection. Similarly, modest IRF-1 knockdown had limited impact on the magnitude of HIV-1–elicited activation of IRF-1–regulated host immunologic genes but resulted in lessened duration of these responses. These data suggest that early expression of HIV-1 genes requires a higher IRF-1 level, compared to the host antiviral genes. Together, these provide one key mechanism underlying the natural resistance against HIV infection and further suggest that modest IRF-1 reduction could effectively limit productive HIV infection yet remain sufficient to activate a robust but transient immune response