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Anti-retroviral therapy successfully suppresses HIV-1 infection, but fails to provide a cure. During infection Type 1 IFNs normally play an essential role in viral clearance, but in vivo IFN-α only has a modest impact on HIV-1 infection, suggesting its possible targeting by HIV. Here, we report that the HIV protein, Vif, inhibits effective IFN-α signalling via degradation of essential JAK/STAT pathway components. We found that STAT1 and STAT3 are specifically reduced in HEK293T cells expressing Vif and that full length, infectious HIV-1 IIIB strain promotes their degradation in a Vif-dependent manner. HIV-1 IIIB infection of myeloid ThP-1 cells also reduced the IFN-α-mediated induction of the anti-viral gene, ISG15, but not MxA, revealing a functional consequence of this HIV-1-mediated immune evasion strategy. Interestingly, while total STAT levels were not reduced upon in vitro IIIB infection of primary human PBMCs, IFN-α-mediated phosphorylation of STAT1 and STAT3 and ISG induction were starkly reduced, with removal of Vif (IIIBΔVif), partially restoring pSTATs, ISG15 and MxB induction. Similarly, pSTAT1 and pSTAT3 expression and IFN-α-induced ISG15 were reduced in PBMCs from HIV-infected patients, compared to healthy controls. Furthermore, IFN-α pre-treatment of a CEM T lymphoblast cells significantly inhibited HIV infection/replication (measured by cellular p24), only in the absence of Vif (IIIBΔVif), but was unable to suppress full length IIIB infection. When analysing the mechanism by which Vif might target the JAK/STAT pathway, we found Vif interacts with both STAT1 and STAT3, (but not STAT2), and its expression promotes ubiquitination and MG132-sensitive, proteosomal degradation of both proteins. Vif's Elongin-Cullin-SOCS-box binding motif enables the formation of an active E3 ligase complex, which we found to be required for Vif's degradation of STAT1 and STAT3. In fact, the E3 ligase scaffold proteins, Cul5 and Rbx2, were also found to be essential for Vif-mediated proteasomal degradation of STAT1 and STAT3. These results reveal a target for HIV-1-Vif and demonstrate how HIV-1 impairs the anti-viral activity of Type 1 IFNs, possibly explaining why both endogenous and therapeutic IFN-α fail to activate more effective control over HIV infection.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





203 - 216


HIV-1, ISG, JAK/STAT, Proteasomal degradation, Type 1 IFNs, Viral immune evasion