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AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2004 Mar;20(3):315-25.

Fine specificity and cross-clade reactivity of HIV type 1 Gag-specific CD4+ T cells.

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Partners AIDS Research Center and Infectious Disease Unit, The Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, USA.


Despite growing evidence that HIV-1-specific CD4(+) T helper (Th) cells may play a role in the control of viremia, discrete Th cell epitopes remain poorly defined. Furthermore, it is not known whether Th cell responses generated using vaccines based on clade B virus sequences will elicit immune responses that are effective in regions of the world where non-clade B viruses predominate. To address these issues we isolated CD4(+) T cell clones from individuals with vigorous HIV-1-specific Th cell responses and identified the minimum epitopes recognized. The minimum peptide length required for induction of CD4(+) T cell proliferation, IFN-gamma secretion, and cytolytic activity ranged from 9 to 16 amino acids in the five epitopes studied. Cross-clade recognition of the defined epitopes was examined for variant peptides from clades A, B, C, D, and AE. Over half the variant epitopes (17 of 32) exhibited impaired recognition, defined as less than 50% of the IFN-gamma secretion elicited by B clade consensus sequence. There was no evidence for antagonistic activity mediated by the variant peptides, and despite strong responses there was no escape of autologous virus from Th responses in the epitopes we studied. Abrogated recognition of variant CD4(+) T cell epitopes presents a potential obstacle to vaccine development.

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