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J Virol. 2003 Jan;77(2):882-90.

Association between virus-specific T-cell responses and plasma viral load in human immunodeficiency virus type 1 subtype C infection.

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Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


Virus-specific T-cell immune responses are important in restraint of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) replication and control of disease. Plasma viral load is a key determinant of disease progression and infectiousness in HIV infection. Although HIV-1 subtype C (HIV-1C) is the predominant virus in the AIDS epidemic worldwide, the relationship between HIV-1C-specific T-cell immune responses and plasma viral load has not been elucidated. In the present study we address (i) the association between the level of plasma viral load and virus-specific immune responses to different HIV-1C proteins and their subregions and (ii) the specifics of correlation between plasma viral load and T-cell responses within the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I HLA supertypes. Virus-specific immune responses in the natural course of HIV-1C infection were analyzed in the gamma interferon (IFN-gamma)-enzyme-linked immunospot assay by using synthetic overlapping peptides corresponding to the HIV-1C consensus sequence. For Gag p24, a correlation was seen between better T-cell responses and lower plasma viral load. For Nef, an opposite trend was observed where a higher T-cell response was more likely to be associated with a higher viral load. At the level of the HLA supertypes, a lower viral load was associated with higher T-cell responses to Gag p24 within the HLA A2, A24, B27, and B58 supertypes, in contrast to the absence of such a correlation within the HLA B44 supertype. The present study demonstrated differential correlations (or trends to correlation) in various HIV-1C proteins, suggesting (i) an important role of the HIV-1C Gag p24-specific immune responses in control of viremia and (ii) more rapid viral escape from immune responses to Nef with no restraint of plasma viral load. Correlations between the level of IFN-gamma-secreting T cells and viral load within the MHC class I HLA supertypes should be considered in HIV vaccine design and efficacy trials.

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