The role of Type I interferon (IFN) during pathogenic HIV and SIV infections remains unclear, with conflicting observations suggesting protective versus immunopathological effects. We therefore examined the effect of IFNα/β on T cell death and viremia in HIV infection. Ex vivo analysis of eight pro- and anti-apoptotic molecules in chronic HIV-1 infection revealed that pro-apoptotic Bak was increased in CD4+ T cells and correlated directly with sensitivity to CD95/Fas-mediated apoptosis and inversely with CD4+ T cell counts. Apoptosis sensitivity and Bak expression were primarily increased in effector memory T cells. Knockdown of Bak by RNA interference inhibited CD95/Fas-induced death of T cells from HIV-1-infected individuals. In HIV-1-infected patients, IFNα-stimulated gene expression correlated positively with ex vivo T cell Bak levels, CD95/Fas-mediated apoptosis and viremia and negatively with CD4+ T cell counts. In vitro IFNα/β stimulation enhanced Bak expression, CD95/Fas expression and CD95/Fas-mediated apoptosis in healthy donor T cells and induced death of HIV-specific CD8+ T cells from HIV-1-infected patients. HIV-1 in vitro sensitized T cells to CD95/Fas-induced apoptosis and this was Toll-like receptor (TLR)7/9- and Type I IFN-dependent. This sensitization by HIV-1 was due to an indirect effect on T cells, as it occurred in peripheral blood mononuclear cell cultures but not purified CD4+ T cells. Finally, peak IFNα levels and viral loads correlated negatively during acute SIV infection suggesting a potential antiviral effect, but positively during chronic SIV infection indicating that either the virus drives IFNα production or IFNα may facilitate loss of viral control. The above findings indicate stage-specific opposing effects of Type I IFNs during HIV-1 infection and suggest a novel mechanism by which these cytokines contribute to T cell depletion, dysregulation of cellular immunity and disease progression.