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J Virol. 2009 Jan;83(2):1018-25. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01882-08. Epub 2008 Oct 22.

Functional consequences of human immunodeficiency virus escape from an HLA-B*13-restricted CD8+ T-cell epitope in p1 Gag protein.

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Department of Paediatrics, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.


The observed association between HLA-B*13 and control of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection has been linked to the number of Gag-specific HLA-B*13-restricted cytotoxic T-cell (CTL) responses identified. To date, the Gag escape mutations described that result in an in vitro fitness cost to the virus have been located within structural protein p24 only. Here we investigated the hypothesis that CTL escape mutations within other regions of HIV Gag may also reduce viral fitness and contribute to immune control. We analyzed an HLA-B*13-restricted CTL response toward an epitope in p1 Gag, RQANFLGKI(429-437) (RI9), where amino acid variation at Gag residues 436 and 437 is associated with HLA-B*13 expression. In this work, we assessed the impact of amino acid substitutions at these positions on CTL recognition and on HIV-1 fitness. We demonstrated that substitutions I437L and I437M largely abrogate CTL recognition and reduce viral fitness while variants K436R and I437V have only a marginal effect on recognition and fitness. Examination of the patterns of protein synthesis indicated that the loss of fitness in the I437L and I437M mutants is associated with the accumulation of unprocessed Gag precursors. A significant reduction in ribosomal frameshifting efficiency was observed with I437M, suggesting that this mechanism contributes to the observed reduced fitness of this virus. These studies illustrate the apparent trade-off available to the virus between evasion of CTL recognition in p1 Gag and the functional consequences for viral fitness.

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