The Lentivirus human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes chronic inflammation and AIDS in humans, with variable rates of disease progression between individuals driven by both host and viral factors. Similarly, simian lentiviruses vary in their pathogenicity based on characteristics of both the host species and the virus strain, yet the immune underpinnings that drive differential Lentivirus pathogenicity remain incompletely understood.
We profile immune responses in a unique model of differential lentiviral pathogenicity where pig-tailed macaques are infected with highly genetically similar variants of SIV that differ in virulence. We apply longitudinal single-cell transcriptomics to this cohort, along with single-cell resolution cell-cell communication techniques, to understand the immune mechanisms underlying lentiviral pathogenicity.
Compared to a minimally pathogenic lentiviral variant, infection with a highly pathogenic variant results in a more delayed, broad, and sustained activation of inflammatory pathways, including an extensive global interferon signature. Conversely, individual cells infected with highly pathogenic Lentivirus upregulated fewer interferon-stimulated genes at a lower magnitude, indicating that highly pathogenic Lentivirus has evolved to partially escape from interferon responses. Further, we identify CXCL10 and CXCL16 as important molecular drivers of inflammatory pathways specifically in response to highly pathogenic Lentivirus infection. Immune responses to highly pathogenic Lentivirus infection are characterized by amplifying regulatory circuits of pro-inflammatory cytokines with dense longitudinal connectivity.
Our work presents a model of lentiviral pathogenicity where failures in early viral control mechanisms lead to delayed, sustained, and amplifying pro-inflammatory circuits, which in turn drives disease progression.