Plasmacytoid DCs (pDCs) are innate immune cells that are specialized to produce IFN-α and to activate adaptive immune responses. Although IFN-α inhibits HIV-1 replication in vitro, the production of IFN-α by HIV-activated pDCs in vivo may contribute more to HIV pathogenesis than to protection. We have now shown that HIV-stimulated human pDCs allow for persistent IFN-α production upon repeated stimulation, express low levels of maturation molecules, and stimulate weak T cell responses. Persistent IFN-α production by HIV-stimulated pDCs correlated with increased levels of IRF7 and was dependent upon the autocrine IFN-α/β receptor feedback loop. Because it has been shown that early endosomal trafficking of TLR9 agonists causes strong activation of the IFN-α pathway but weak activation of the NF-κB pathway, we sought to investigate whether early endosomal trafficking of HIV, a TLR7 agonist, leads to the IFN-α–producing phenotype we observed. We demonstrated that HIV preferentially traffics to the early endosome in human pDCs and therefore skews pDCs toward a partially matured, persistently IFN-α–secreting phenotype.
Meagan O’Brien, Olivier Manches, Rachel Lubong Sabado, Sonia Jimenez Baranda, Yaming Wang, Isabelle Marie, Linda Rolnitzky, Martin Markowitz, David M. Margolis, David Levy, Nina Bhardwaj