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J Immunol. 2004 May 1;172(9):5249-61.

The HIV-1 HLA-A2-SLYNTVATL is a help-independent CTL epitope.

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  • 1Karmanos Cancer Institute, Department of Pathology and Immunology, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48201, USA.


The CTL response to the HLA-A*0201-restricted, HIV-1 p17 Gag(77-85) epitope (SLYNTVATL; SL9) has been extensively studied in patients. Although this reactivity is exceptionally prominent in chronically infected patients and inversely correlated to viral load, SL9-specific CTLs (SL9-CTLs) are rarely detected in acute infection. To explore the cellular basis for this unusual manifestation, SL9-CTLs primed ex vivo from naive circulating CD8(+) T cells of healthy, seronegative donors were generated and characterized. SL9 appeared to differ from other well-studied A*0201-restricted epitopes in several significant respects. In contrast to published reports for influenza and melanoma peptides and the HIV gag IV9 epitope studied here in parallel, SL9-CTLs were primed by immature but not mature autologous dendritic cells. Highly activated SL9-CTLs produce sufficient autocrine mediators to sustain clonal expansion and CTL differentiation for months without CD4(+) T cells or exogenous IL-2. Moreover, SL9-CTLs were sensitive to paracrine IL-2-induced apoptosis. IL-2 independence and sensitivity to paracrine IL-2 were also characteristic of SL9-CTLs immunized by dendritic cells transduced by a nonreplicating lentiviral vector encoding full-length Gag. In vitro-primed SL9-CTLs resembled those derived from patients in degeneracy of recognition and functional avidities for both SL9 and its natural mutations. Together, these data show that SL9 is a highly immunogenic, help-independent HIV epitope. The scarcity of SL9-CTLs in acute infection may result from cytokine-induced apoptosis with the intense activation of the innate immunity. In contrast, SL9-CTLs that constitutively produce autocrine help would predominate during CD4-diminished chronic infection.

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