A critical determinant for early post-entry events, the HIV-1 capsid (CA) protein forms the conical core when it rearranges around the dimeric RNA genome and associated viral proteins. Although mutations in CA have been reported to alter innate immune sensing of HIV-1, a direct link between core stability and sensing of HIV-1 nucleic acids has not been established. Herein, we assessed how manipulating the stability of the CA lattice through chemical and genetic approaches affects innate immune recognition of HIV-1. We found that destabilization of the CA lattice resulted in potent sensing of reverse transcription products when destabilization per se does not completely block reverse transcription. Surprisingly, due to the combined effects of enhanced reverse transcription and defects in nuclear entry, two separate CA mutants that form hyperstable cores induced innate immune sensing more potently than destabilizing CA mutations. At low concentrations that allowed the accumulation of reverse transcription products, CA-targeting compounds GS-CA1 and lenacapavir measurably impacted CA lattice stability in cells and modestly enhanced innate immune sensing of HIV. Interestingly, innate immune activation observed with viruses containing unstable cores was abolished by low doses of lenacapavir. Innate immune activation observed with both hyperstable and unstable CA mutants was dependent on the cGAS-STING DNA-sensing pathway and reverse transcription. Overall, our findings demonstrate that CA lattice stability and reverse transcription are finely balanced to support reverse transcription and minimize cGAS-STING-mediated sensing of the resulting viral DNA.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2024


  • HIV-1
  • cGAS
  • capsid
  • capsid stability
  • innate immunity
  • innate sensing
  • lenacapavir
  • reverse transcription

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