Section 9
Chapter 8,414

Cytotoxic T lymphocytes in asymptomatic long-term nonprogressing HIV-1 infection. Breadth and specificity of the response and relation to in vivo viral quasispecies in a person with prolonged infection and low viral load

Harrer, T.; Harrer, E.; Kalams, S.A.; Barbosa, P.; Trocha, A.; Johnson, R.P.; Elbeik, T.; Feinberg, M.B.; Buchbinder, S.P.; Walker, B.D.

Journal of Immunology 156(7): 2616-2623


ISSN/ISBN: 0022-1767
PMID: 8786327
Accession: 008413705

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Although vigorous activated and memory CTL have been associated with HIV-1 infection, data are lacking regarding the breadth of epitopes recognized in a given individual and the relationship to the viral quasispecies present in vivo. In this study we performed a detailed analysis of the HIV-1-specific CTL response in a seropositive person with documented HIV-1 infection of 15 yr duration, stable CD4 counts above 500 cells/ml, and viral load persistently below 500 molecules of RNA/ml of plasma. Epitope mapping studies revealed the presence of HLA class 1-restricted CTL responses to six different epitopes in p17, p24, RT, Env, and Nef, which conferred broadly cross-reactive recognition of reported HIV-1 variants. Sequence analysis of autologous viruses revealed the absence of immune escape variants within five of the six epitopes. Despite consistently low viral RNA levels in plasma and viral DNA levels in PBMC, in vivo-activated circulating CTL were detected against three of the epitopes. Five of the six epitopes, including the three dominant epitopes, have been detected in persons with progressive disease, suggesting that nonprogressors may not target unique epitopes. This study demonstrates that HIV-1-specific CTL can be highly activated and broadly directed in the setting of an extremely low viral load, and that neither high viral load nor antigenic diversity is required for the generation of a multispecific CTL response. Although the detection of strong CTL responses, low viral load, and lack of immune escape are consistent with the hypothesis that CTL may contribute to lack of disease progression in this individual, the contribution of these responses to maintenance of the asymptomatic state remains to be determined.

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