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J Virol. 2013 Jul;87(13):7445-62. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00865-13. Epub 2013 Apr 24.

Early Gag immunodominance of the HIV-specific T-cell response during acute/early infection is associated with higher CD8+ T-cell antiviral activity and correlates with preservation of the CD4+ T-cell compartment.

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Instituto de Investigaciones Biomédicas en Retrovirus y SIDA (INBIRS), Universidad de Buenos Aires-CONICET, Buenos Aires, Argentina.


The important role of the CD8(+) T-cell response on HIV control is well established. Moreover, the acute phase of infection represents a proper scenario to delineate the antiviral cellular functions that best correlate with control. Here, multiple functional aspects (specificity, ex vivo viral inhibitory activity [VIA] and polyfunctionality) of the HIV-specific CD8(+) T-cell subset arising early after infection, and their association with disease progression markers, were examined. Blood samples from 44 subjects recruited within 6 months from infection (primary HIV infection [PHI] group), 16 chronically infected subjects, 11 elite controllers (EC), and 10 healthy donors were obtained. Results indicated that, although Nef dominated the anti-HIV response during acute/early infection, a higher proportion of early anti-Gag T cells correlated with delayed progression. Polyfunctional HIV-specific CD8(+) T cells were detected at early time points but did not associate with virus control. Conversely, higher CD4(+) T-cell set points were observed in PHI subjects with higher HIV-specific CD8(+) T-cell VIA at baseline. Importantly, VIA levels correlated with the magnitude of the anti-Gag cellular response. The advantage of Gag-specific cells may result from their enhanced ability to mediate lysis of infected cells (evidenced by a higher capacity to degranulate and to mediate VIA) and to simultaneously produce IFN-γ. Finally, Gag immunodominance was associated with elevated plasma levels of interleukin 2 (IL-2) and macrophage inflammatory protein 1β (MIP-1β). All together, this study underscores the importance of CD8(+) T-cell specificity in the improved control of disease progression, which was related to the capacity of Gag-specific cells to mediate both lytic and nonlytic antiviral mechanisms at early time points postinfection.

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