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Immunol Lett. 2001 Nov 1;79(1-2):21-7.

Immune defence against HIV-1 infection in HIV-1-exposed seronegative persons.

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Department of Laboratory Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA, USA.


Rare individuals who are repeatedly exposed to HIV-1 through unprotected sexual contact fail to acquire HIV-1 infection. These persons represent a unique study population to evaluate mechanisms by which HIV-1 replication is either prevented or controlled. We followed longitudinally a group of healthy HIV-1 seronegative persons each reporting repeated high-risk sexual activities with their HIV-1-infected partner at enrollment. The volunteers were primarily (90%) male homosexuals, maintaining high risk activities with their known infected partner (45%) or multiple other partners (61%). We evaluated the quantity and specificity of HIV-1-specific T cells in 31 exposed seronegatives (ES) using a IFN-gamma ELISPOT assay to enumerate T cells recognizing epitopes within HIV-1 Env, Gag, Pol and Nef. PBMC from only three of the 31 volunteers demonstrated ex vivo HIV-1-specific IFN-gamma secretion, in contrast to nearly 30% exhibiting cytolytic responses in previous studies. These findings suggest that if T cell responses in ES are induced by HIV-1 exposure, the frequency is at low levels in most of them, and below the level of detection using the ELISPOT assay. Alternative approaches to improve the sensitivity of detection may include use of dendritic cells as antigen-presenting cells in the ex vivo assay and more careful definition of the risk behavior and extent of HIV-1 exposure in conjunction with the evaluation of T cell responses.

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