Hypoxia-inducible factor 1α (Hif1α) suppresses virus replication in human cytomegalovirus infection by limiting kynurenine synthesis

Lisa M. Wise, Yuecheng Xi, John G. Purdy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) replication depends on the activities of several host regulators of metabolism. Hypoxia-inducible factor 1α (HIF1α) wasprevi-ously proposed to support virus replication through its metabolic regulatory function. HIF1α protein levels rise in response to HCMV infection in nonhypoxic conditions, but its effect on HCMV replication was not investigated. We addressed the role of HIF1α in HCMV replication by generating primary human cells with HIF1α knocked out using CRISPR/Cas9. When HIF1α was absent, we found that HCMV replication was enhanced, showing that HIF1α suppresses viral replication. We used untargeted metabolomics to determine if HIF1α regulates metabolite concentrations in HCMV-infected cells. We dis-covered that in HCMV-infected cells, HIF1α suppresses intracellular and extracellular concentrations of kynurenine. HIF1α also suppressed the expression of indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase 1 (IDO1), the rate-limiting enzyme in kynurenine synthesis. In addition to its role in tryptophan metabolism, kynurenine acts as a signaling messenger by activating aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR). Inhibiting AhR reduces HCMV replication, while activating AhR with an exogenous ligand increases virus replication. Moreover, we found that feeding kynurenine to cells promotes HCMV replication. Overall, our findings indicate that HIF1α reduces HCMV replication by regulating metabolism and metabolite signaling. IMPORTANCE Viruses, including human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), reprogram cellular metabolism using host metabolic regulators to support virus replication. Alternatively, in response to infection, the host can use metabolism to limit virus replication. Here, our findings show that the host uses hypoxia-inducible factor 1α (HIF1α) as a metabolic regulator to reduce HCMV replication. Further, we found that HIF1α suppresses kynurenine synthesis, a metabolite that can promote HCMV replication by signaling through the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR). In infected cells, the rate-limiting enzyme in kynurenine synthesis, indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase 1 (IDO1), is suppressed by a HIF1α-dependent mechanism. Our findings describe a functional con-nection between HIF1α, IDO1, and AhR that allows HIF1α to limit HCMV replication through metabolic regulation, advancing our understanding of virus-host interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02956-20
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021


  • 3-dioxygenase 1
  • Aryl hydrocarbon receptor
  • Human cytomegalovirus
  • Hypoxia-inducible factor 1α
  • Indoleamine 2
  • Kynurenine
  • Metabolomics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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