Differential antiviral effect of PEG-interferon-α-2b on HIV and HCV in the treatment of HIV/HCV co-infected patients
OBJECTIVE: The major antiviral effect of interferon (IFN)-α on hepatitis C virus (HCV) is blocking of virion production from infected cells. We now investigate the previously unknown mechanism of action of IFN-α against HIV. METHODS: HIV kinetics in parallel to HCV kinetics and IFN pharmacokinetics during pegylated-IFN-α-2b (1.5 μg/Kg q.w., PEG-IFN) and ribavirin (1-1.2 g daily) treatment in nine HIV patients co-infected with HCV genotype 1 were analyzed. In vivo modeling predictions of suppression of HIV replication by PEG-IFN in CD8-depleted peripheral blood mononuclear cells were verified by in vitro experiments. RESULTS: HCV and HIV show different viral decline patterns after administration of PEG-IFN. Unlike the bi-phasic decline shown by HCV, HIV shows a slow continuous decline during the first week, with no rebound when PEG-IFN levels decline. Fitting of HIV kinetics with known half-lives of free virus and infected cells indicates that the major effect of IFN on HIV is to block de novo infection rather than to block virion production. The magnitude of the antiviral effect is similar (mean 1.1 log10 decline at 7 days) to those of direct anti-HIV drugs, but shows an inverse correlation with baseline viremia. In vitro studies show that preincubation with IFN renders a suppression of HIV replication superior to that of treatment postinfection, thus corroborating the mathematical analysis in vivo. CONCLUSION: The complimentary antiviral properties of IFN-α and antiretroviral therapy suggest a role for pharmacokinetically improved formulations of IFN as part of salvage therapy for HIV-infected individuals.