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J Virol. 2003 Jul;77(13):7330-40.

Enhanced detection of human immunodeficiency virus type 1-specific T-cell responses to highly variable regions by using peptides based on autologous virus sequences.

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Partners AIDS Research Center and Infectious Disease Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Division of AIDS, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.


The antigenic diversity of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) represents a significant challenge for vaccine design as well as the comprehensive assessment of HIV-1-specific immune responses in infected persons. In this study we assessed the impact of antigen variability on the characterization of HIV-1-specific T-cell responses by using an HIV-1 database to determine the sequence variability at each position in all expressed HIV-1 proteins and a comprehensive data set of CD8 T-cell responses to a reference strain of HIV-1 in infected persons. Gamma interferon Elispot analysis of HIV-1 clade B-specific T-cell responses to 504 overlapping peptides spanning the entire expressed HIV-1 genome derived from 57 infected subjects demonstrated that the average amino acid variability within a peptide (entropy) was inversely correlated to the measured frequency at which the peptide was recognized (P = 6 x 10(-7)). Subsequent studies in six persons to assess T-cell responses against p24 Gag, Tat, and Vpr peptides based on autologous virus sequences demonstrated that 29% (12 of 42) of targeted peptides were only detected with peptides representing the autologous virus strain compared to the HIV-1 clade B consensus sequence. The use of autologous peptides also allowed the detection of significantly stronger HIV-1-specific T-cell responses in the more variable regulatory and accessory HIV-1 proteins Tat and Vpr (P = 0.007). Taken together, these data indicate that accurate assessment of T-cell responses directed against the more variable regulatory and accessory HIV-1 proteins requires reagents based on autologous virus sequences. They also demonstrate that CD8 T-cell responses to the variable HIV-1 proteins are more common than previously reported.

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