HIV-1 Activation of Innate Immunity Depends Strongly on the Intracellular Level of TREX1 and Sensing of Incomplete Reverse Transcription Products

Swati Kumar, James H Morrison, David Dingli, Eric Poeschla
Journal of Virology 2018 August 15, 92 (16)
TREX1 has been reported to degrade cytosolic immune-stimulatory DNA, including viral DNA generated during HIV-1 infection; but the dynamic range of its capacity to suppress innate immune stimulation is unknown, and its full role in the viral life cycle remains unclear. A main purpose of our study was to determine how the intracellular level of TREX1 affects HIV-1 activation and avoidance of innate immunity. Using stable overexpression and CRISPR-mediated gene disruption, we engineered a range of TREX1 levels in human THP-1 monocytes. Increasing the level of TREX1 dramatically suppressed HIV-1 induction of interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs). Productive infection and integrated proviruses were equal or increased. Knocking out TREX1 impaired viral infectivity, increased early viral cDNA, and caused 10-fold or greater increases in HIV-1 ISG induction. Knockout of cyclic GMP-AMP synthase (cGAS) abrogated all ISG induction. Moreover, cGAS knockout produced no increase in single-cycle infection, establishing that HIV-1 DNA-triggered signaling is not rapid enough to impair the initial ISG-triggering infection cycle. Disruption of the HIV-1 capsid by PF74 also induced ISGs, and this was TREX1 level dependent, required reverse transcriptase catalysis, and was eliminated by cGAS gene knockout. Thus, the intracellular level of TREX1 pivotally modulates innate immune induction by HIV-1. Partial HIV-1 genomes are the TREX1 target and are sensed by cGAS. The nearly complete lack of innate immune induction despite equal or increased viral integration observed when the TREX1 protein level is experimentally elevated indicates that integration-competent genomes are shielded from cytosolic sensor-effectors during uncoating and transit to the nucleus. IMPORTANCE Much remains unknown about how TREX1 influences HIV-1 replication: whether it targets full-length viral DNA versus partial intermediates, how intracellular TREX1 protein levels correlate with ISG induction, and whether TREX1 digestion of cytoplasmic DNA and subsequent cGAS pathway activation affects both initial and subsequent cycles of infection. To answer these questions, we experimentally varied the intracellular level of TREX1 and showed that this strongly determines the innate immunogenicity of HIV-1. In addition, several lines of evidence, including time-of-addition experiments with drugs that impair reverse transcription or capsid integrity, showed that the pathogen-associated molecular patterns sensed after viral entry contain DNA, are TREX1 and cGAS substrates, and are derived from incomplete reverse transcriptase (RT) products. In contrast, the experiments demonstrate that full-length integration-competent viral DNA is immune to TREX1. Treatment approaches that reduce TREX1 levels or facilitate release of DNA intermediates may advantageously combine enhanced innate immunity with antiviral effects.


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