Flow cytometry is used increasingly in clinical research for cancer, immunology and vaccines. Technological advances in cytometry instrumentation are increasing the size and dimensionality of data sets, posing a challenge for traditional data management and analysis. Automated analysis methods, despite a general consensus of their importance to the future of the field, have been slow to gain widespread adoption. Here we present OpenCyto, a new BioConductor infrastructure and data analysis framework designed to lower the barrier of entry to automated flow data analysis algorithms by addressing key areas that we believe have held back wider adoption of automated approaches. OpenCyto supports end-to-end data analysis that is robust and reproducible while generating results that are easy to interpret. We have improved the existing, widely used core BioConductor flow cytometry infrastructure by allowing analysis to scale in a memory efficient manner to the large flow data sets that arise in clinical trials, and integrating domain-specific knowledge as part of the pipeline through the hierarchical relationships among cell populations. Pipelines are defined through a text-based csv file, limiting the need to write data-specific code, and are data agnostic to simplify repetitive analysis for core facilities. We demonstrate how to analyze two large cytometry data sets: an intracellular cytokine staining (ICS) data set from a published HIV vaccine trial focused on detecting rare, antigen-specific T-cell populations, where we identify a new subset of CD8 T-cells with a vaccine-regimen specific response that could not be identified through manual analysis, and a CyTOF T-cell phenotyping data set where a large staining panel and many cell populations are a challenge for traditional analysis. The substantial improvements to the core BioConductor flow cytometry packages give OpenCyto the potential for wide adoption. It can rapidly leverage new developments in computational cytometry and facilitate reproducible analysis in a unified environment.
Functional analysis of mononuclear leukocytes in the female genital mucosa is essential for understanding the immunologic effects of HIV vaccines and microbicides at the site of HIV exposure. However, the best female genital tract sampling technique is unclear.
Methods and Findings
We enrolled women from four sites in Africa and the US to compare three genital leukocyte sampling methods: cervicovaginal lavages (CVL), endocervical cytobrushes, and ectocervical biopsies. Absolute yields of mononuclear leukocyte subpopulations were determined by flow cytometric bead-based cell counting. Of the non-invasive sampling types, two combined sequential cytobrushes yielded significantly more viable mononuclear leukocytes than a CVL (p<0.0001). In a subsequent comparison, two cytobrushes yielded as many leukocytes (∼10,000) as one biopsy, with macrophages/monocytes being more prominent in cytobrushes and T lymphocytes in biopsies. Sample yields were consistent between sites. In a subgroup analysis, we observed significant reproducibility between replicate same-day biopsies (r = 0.89, p = 0.0123). Visible red blood cells in cytobrushes increased leukocyte yields more than three-fold (p = 0.0078), but did not change their subpopulation profile, indicating that these leukocytes were still largely derived from the mucosa and not peripheral blood. We also confirmed that many CD4+ T cells in the female genital tract express the α4β7 integrin, an HIV envelope-binding mucosal homing receptor.
CVL sampling recovered the lowest number of viable mononuclear leukocytes. Two cervical cytobrushes yielded comparable total numbers of viable leukocytes to one biopsy, but cytobrushes and biopsies were biased toward macrophages and T lymphocytes, respectively. Our study also established the feasibility of obtaining consistent flow cytometric analyses of isolated genital cells from four study sites in the US and Africa. These data represent an important step towards implementing mucosal cell sampling in international clinical trials of HIV prevention.
The magnitude and functional phenotype (e.g. proliferation, immune stimulation) of the vaccine-induced T-cell responses are likely to be critical in defining responses that can control pathogenic challenge. Current multi-parameter flow cytometric techniques may not be sufficient to measure all of these different functions, since characterizing T-cell responses by flow cytometry is presently limited to concurrent measurement of at most 10 cytokines/chemokines. Here, we describe extensive studies conducted using standardized GCLP procedures to optimize and qualitatively/quantitatively qualify a multiplex bead array (MBA) performed on supernatant collected from stimulated peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) to assess 12 cytokines and chemokines of interest. Our optimized MBA shows good precision (intra-assay, inter-day, inter-technician; coefficients of variation <30%) and linearity for most of the analytes studied. We also developed positivity criteria that allow us to define a response as positive or negative with a high degree of confidence. In conclusion, we provide a detailed description of the qualification of an MBA, which permits quantitative and qualitative evaluation of vaccine-induced immunogenicity and analysis of immune correlates of protection. This assay provides an excellent complement to the existing repertoire of assays for assessing immunogenicity in HIV vaccine clinical trials.
Multiplex bead array; Vaccine; HIV; Cytokine; Chemokine
Highly effective vaccines have yet to be identified for many widespread infectious diseases including HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. Many vaccine candidates for these diseases have been designed to induce both cellular and humoral immunity, and measurement of the induced cellular immune response and antibody response is critical for monitoring immunogenicity. The flow cytometric intracellular cytokine staining assay is one of the primary assays for enumerating vaccine-induced T cells in vaccine clinical trials. The assay is flexible, allowing for measurement of various cytokines or functions and phenotyping markers, and the assay can be validated. Changes in other cell types such as innate immune cells are monitored by flow cytometric phenotyping assays. Cell sorting of vaccine-induced T cells and B cells is used to allow genomic and transcriptional analysis of these cells. Thus, flow cytometric methods are commonly used in trials testing the next generation of vaccines.
Flow cytometry; vaccine; T cell; immunogenicity; intracellular cytokine staining
A number of studies of highly exposed HIV-1-seronegative individuals (HESN) have found HIV-1-specific cellular responses. However, there is limited evidence that responses prevent infection or are linked to HIV-1 exposure. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) were isolated from HESN in HIV-1-discordant relationships and low-risk controls in Nairobi, Kenya. HIV-1-specific responses were detected using gamma interferon (IFN-γ) enzyme-linked immunosorbent spot (ELISpot) assays stimulated by peptide pools spanning the subtype A HIV-1 genome. The HIV-1 incidence in this HESN cohort was 1.5 per 100 person years. Positive ELISpot responses were found in 34 (10%) of 331 HESN and 14 (13%) of 107 low-risk controls (odds ratio [OR] = 0.76; P = 0.476). The median immunodominant response was 18.9 spot-forming units (SFU)/106 peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). Among HESN, increasing age (OR = 1.24 per 5 years; P = 0.026) and longer cohabitation with the HIV-1-infected partner (OR = 5.88 per 5 years; P = 0.003) were associated with responses. These factors were not associated with responses in controls. Other exposure indicators, including the partner's HIV-1 load (OR = 0.99 per log10 copy/ml; P = 0.974) and CD4 count (OR = 1.09 per 100 cells/μl; P = 0.238), were not associated with responses in HESN. HIV-1-specific cellular responses may be less relevant to resistance to infection among HESN who are using risk reduction strategies that decrease their direct viral exposure.
We evaluated a DNA plasmid-vectored vaccine and a recombinant modified vaccinia virus Ankara vaccine (MVA-mBN32), each encoding cytotoxic and helper T-lymphocyte epitopes of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) in a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial in 36 HIV-1-uninfected adults using a heterologous prime-boost schedule. HIV-1-specific cellular immune responses, measured as interleukin-2 and/or gamma interferon production, were induced in 1 (4%) of 28 subjects after the first MVA-mBN32 immunization and in 3 (12%) of 25 subjects after the second MVA-mBN32 immunization. Among these responders, polyfunctional T-cell responses, including the production of tumor necrosis factor alpha and perforin, were detected. Vaccinia virus-specific antibodies were induced to the MVA vector in 27 (93%) of 29 and 26 (93%) of 28 subjects after the first and second immunizations with MVA-mBN32. These peptide-based vaccines were safe but were ineffective at inducing HIV-1-specific immune responses and induced much weaker responses than MVA vaccines expressing the entire open reading frames of HIV-1 proteins.
In the RV144 trial, the estimated efficacy of a vaccine regimen against human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) was 31.2%. We performed a case–control analysis to identify antibody and cellular immune correlates of infection risk.
In pilot studies conducted with RV144 blood samples, 17 antibody or cellular assays met prespecified criteria, of which 6 were chosen for primary analysis to determine the roles of T-cell, IgG antibody, and IgA antibody responses in the modulation of infection risk. Assays were performed on samples from 41 vaccinees who became infected and 205 uninfected vaccinees, obtained 2 weeks after final immunization, to evaluate whether immune-response variables predicted HIV-1 infection through 42 months of follow-up.
Of six primary variables, two correlated significantly with infection risk: the binding of IgG antibodies to variable regions 1 and 2 (V1V2) of HIV-1 envelope proteins (Env) correlated inversely with the rate of HIV-1 infection (estimated odds ratio, 0.57 per 1-SD increase; P = 0.02; q = 0.08), and the binding of plasma IgA antibodies to Env correlated directly with the rate of infection (estimated odds ratio, 1.54 per 1-SD increase; P = 0.03; q = 0.08). Neither low levels of V1V2 antibodies nor high levels of Env-specific IgA antibodies were associated with higher rates of infection than were found in the placebo group. Secondary analyses suggested that Env-specific IgA antibodies may mitigate the effects of potentially protective antibodies.
This immune-correlates study generated the hypotheses that V1V2 antibodies may have contributed to protection against HIV-1 infection, whereas high levels of Env-specific IgA antibodies may have mitigated the effects of protective antibodies. Vaccines that are designed to induce higher levels of V1V2 antibodies and lower levels of Env-specific IgA antibodies than are induced by the RV144 vaccine may have improved efficacy against HIV-1 infection.
Many candidate HIV vaccines are designed to primarily elicit T-cell responses. Although repeated immunization with the same vaccine boosts antibody responses, the benefit for T-cell responses is ill-defined. We compared two immunization regimens that include the same recombinant adenoviral serotype 5 (rAd5) boost. Repeated homologous rAd5 immunization fails to increase T-cell responses, but increases gp140 antibody responses ten-fold. DNA prime, as compared with rAd5 prime, directs long-term memory CD8+ T cells toward a terminally differentiated effector memory phenotype with cytotoxic potential. Based on the kinetics of activated cells measured directly ex vivo, the DNA vaccination primes for both CD4+ and CD8+ T cells, despite the lack of detection of the latter until after the boost. These results suggest that heterologous prime-boost combinations have distinct immunological advantages over homologous prime-boosts, and suggest that the effect of DNA on subsequent boosting may not be easily detectable directly after the DNA vaccination.
Purified silymarin-derived natural products from the milk thistle plant (Silybum marianum) block hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection and inhibit T cell proliferation in vitro. An intravenous formulation of silibinin (SIL), a major component of silymarin, displays anti-HCV effects in humans and also inhibits T-cell proliferation in vitro. We show that SIL inhibited replication of HIV-1 in TZM-bl cells, PBMCs, and CEM cells in vitro. SIL suppression of HIV-1 coincided with dose-dependent reductions in actively proliferating CD19+, CD4+, and CD8+ cells, resulting in fewer CD4+ T cells expressing the HIV-1 co-receptors CXCR4 and CCR5. SIL inhibition of T-cell growth was not due to cytotoxicity measured by cell cycle arrest, apoptosis, or necrosis. SIL also blocked induction of the activation markers CD38, HLA-DR, Ki67, and CCR5 on CD4+ T cells. The data suggest that SIL attenuated cellular functions involved in T-cell activation, proliferation, and HIV-1 infection. Silymarin-derived compounds provide cytoprotection by suppressing virus infection, immune activation, and inflammation, and as such may be relevant for both HIV mono-infected and HIV/HCV co-infected subjects.
Background. A key missing element in the development of a successful human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) vaccine is an immunogen that can generate broadly cross-neutralizing antibodies against primary isolates of the virus.
Methods. This phase 1 clinical trial employed a DNA prime and subunit envelope protein boost in an attempt to generate cellular and humoral immune responses that might be desirable in a protective HIV vaccine. Priming was performed via intramuscular injection with gag and env DNA adsorbed to polylactide coglycolide microspheres, followed by boosting with a recombinant trimeric envelope (Env) glycoprotein delivered in MF59 adjuvant.
Results. The DNA prime and protein boost were generally safe and well-tolerated. Env-specific CD4+ cellular responses were generated that were predominantly detected after Env protein boosting. Neutralizing antibody responses against the homologous SF162 viral isolate were remarkably strong and were present in the majority of vaccine recipients, including a strong response against CD4-induced epitopes on gp120. Despite the promising potency of this vaccine approach, neutralization breadth against heterologous tier 2 strains of HIV-1 was minimal.
Conclusions. Potent neutralization against neutralization-sensitive strains of HIV is achievable in humans through a DNA prime, recombinant oligomeric Env protein boost regimen. Eliciting substantial breadth of neutralization remains an elusive goal.
Clinical Trials Registration. NCT00073216.
CD8+ T cells are known to be important in clearing herpes simplex virus (HSV) infections. However, investigating the specific antiviral mechanisms employed by HSV-2-specific T cell populations is limited by a lack of reagents such as CD8+ T cell epitopes and specific tetramers. Using a combination of intracellular cytokine staining flow cytometry and ELISpot methods, we functionally characterized peripheral HSV-2-specific CD8+ T cells from peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) that recognize 14 selected HSV-2 open-reading frames (ORFs) from 55 HSV-2 seropositive persons; within these ORFs, we subsequently identified more than 20 unique CD8+ T cell epitopes. CD8+ T cells to HSV-2 exhibited significant heterogeneity in their functional characteristics, proliferation, production of inflammatory cytokines, and potential to degranulate ex vivo. The diversity in T cell response in these ex vivo assessments offers the potential of defining immune correlates of HSV-2 reactivation in humans.
HSV-2; T cells; antigens/peptides/epitopes; virus
The safety and immunogenicity of a vaccine regimen consisting of a 6-plasmid HIV-1 DNA prime (envA, envB, envC, gagB, polB, nefB) boosted by a recombinant adenovirus serotype-5 (rAd5) HIV-1 with matching inserts was evaluated in HIV-seronegative participants from South Africa, United States, Latin America and the Caribbean.
480 participants were evenly randomized to receive either: DNA (4 mg IM by Biojector) at 0, 1 and 2 months, followed by rAd5 (1010 PU IM by needle/syringe) at 6 months; or placebo. Participants were monitored for reactogenicity and adverse events throughout the 12-month study. Peak and duration of HIV-specific humoral and cellular immune responses were evaluated after the prime and boost.
The vaccine was well tolerated and safe. T-cell responses, detected by interferon-γ (IFN-γ) ELISpot to global potential T-cell epitopes (PTEs) were observed in 70.8% (136/192) of vaccine recipients overall, most frequently to Gag (54.7%) and to Env (54.2%). In U.S. vaccine recipients T-cell responses were less frequent in Ad5 sero-positive versus sero-negative vaccine recipients (62.5% versus 85.7% respectively, p = 0.035). The frequency of HIV-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell responses detected by intracellular cytokine staining were similar (41.8% and 47.2% respectively) and most secreted ≥2 cytokines. The vaccine induced a high frequency (83.7%–94.6%) of binding antibody responses to consensus Group M, and Clades A, B and C gp140 Env oligomers. Antibody responses to Gag were elicited in 46% of vaccine recipients.
The vaccine regimen was well-tolerated and induced polyfunctional CD4+ and CD8+ T-cells and multi-clade anti-Env binding antibodies.
We evaluated replication-defective poxvirus vectors (modified vaccinia Ankara [MVA] and fowlpox [FPV]) in a homologous and heterologous vector prime-boost vaccination regimen containing matching HIV inserts (MVA-HIV and FPV-HIV) given at months 0, 1, 3, 5 and 7 in 150 healthy HIV-negative vaccinia-naïve participants. FPV-HIV alone was poorly immunogenic, while the high dose (109 pfu/2ml) of MVA-HIV alone elicited maximal responses after two injections: CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell responses in 26/55 (47.3%) and 5/60 (8.3%) of participants, respectively and IFN-γ ELISpot responses in 28/62 (45.2%). The infrequent CD8+ T-cell responses following MVA-HIV priming were boosted only by the heterologous (FPV-HIV) construct in 14/27 [51.9%] of participants post-4th vaccination. Alternatively, HIV envelope-specific binding antibodies were demonstrated in approximately two-thirds of recipients of the homologous boosting regimen, but in less than 20% of subjects after the heterologous vector boost. Thus, a heterologous poxvirus vector prime-boost regimen can induce an HIV-specific CD8+ T-cell and CD4+ T-cell responses, which may be an important feature of an optimal regimen for preventive HIV vaccination.
Preventive HIV vaccine; MVA and Fowlpox vectors; Phase I clinical trial
Individuals without prior immunity to a vaccine vector may be more sensitive to reactions following injection, but may also show optimal immune responses to vaccine antigens. To assess safety and maximal tolerated dose of an adenoviral vaccine vector in volunteers without prior immunity, we evaluated a recombinant replication-defective adenovirus type 5 (rAd5) vaccine expressing HIV-1 Gag, Pol, and multiclade Env proteins, VRC-HIVADV014-00-VP, in a randomized, double-blind, dose-escalation, multicenter trial (HVTN study 054) in HIV-1-seronegative participants without detectable neutralizing antibodies (nAb) to the vector. As secondary outcomes, we also assessed T-cell and antibody responses.
Volunteers received one dose of vaccine at either 1010 or 1011 adenovector particle units, or placebo. T-cell responses were measured against pools of global potential T-cell epitope peptides. HIV-1 binding and neutralizing antibodies were assessed. Systemic reactogenicity was greater at the higher dose, but the vaccine was well tolerated at both doses. Although no HIV infections occurred, commercial diagnostic assays were positive in 87% of vaccinees one year after vaccination. More than 85% of vaccinees developed HIV-1-specific T-cell responses detected by IFN-γ ELISpot and ICS assays at day 28. T-cell responses were: CD8-biased; evenly distributed across the three HIV-1 antigens; not substantially increased at the higher dose; and detected at similar frequencies one year following injection. The vaccine induced binding antibodies against at least one HIV-1 Env antigen in all recipients.
This vaccine appeared safe and was highly immunogenic following a single dose in human volunteers without prior nAb against the vector.
In the Step Study, the MRKAd5 HIV-1 gag/pol/nef vaccine did not lower post-infection plasma viremia, and HIV-1 incidence was higher in vaccine-treated than placebo-treated males with pre-existing adenovirus serotype 5 (Ad5) immunity. We evaluated vaccine-induced immunity and its potential contributions to infection risk.
To assess immunogenicity, HIV-specific T-cells were characterized ex vivo using validated IFN-γ ELISpot and intracellular cytokine staining (ICS) assays, employing a case-cohort design. To determine effects of vaccine and pre-existing Ad5 immunity on infection risk, flow cytometric studies measured Ad5-specific T-cells and circulating activated (Ki67+/Bcl- 2lo) CD4+ T-cells expressing CCR5.
IFN-γ-secreting HIV-specific T-cells (range, 163–686/106 PBMC) were detected ex vivo by ELISpot in 77% (258/354) of vaccinees; the majority recognized 2–3 HIV proteins. HIV- specific CD4+ T-cells were identified by ICS in 41%; ~85% expressed IL-2, and two-thirds of these co-expressed IFN-γ and/or TNF-α. HIV-specific CD8+ T-cells (range, 0.4–1.0%) were observed in 73%, expressing predominantly either IFN-γ alone or with TNF-α. No major differences were found in vaccine-induced HIV-specific immunity, including response rate, magnitude, and cytokine profile comparing vaccinated male cases (pre-infection) with non-cases. Interestingly, Ad5-specific T-cells were lower in cases than non-cases in several subgroup analyses. The percent circulating Ki67+Bcl-2lo/CCR5+ CD4+ T-cells did not differ between cases and non-cases.
Consistent with previous trials, the MrkAd5/HIV-1 gag/pol/nef vaccine was highly immunogenic for inducing HIV-specific CD8+ T-cells. Comparative analyses did not reveal differences in HIV-specific immunologic responses between cases and non-cases that explain the lack of vaccine efficacy and potential infection enhancement. If T-cell immunity is critical in vaccine-induced HIV protection, our findings suggest that future candidate vaccines must elicit responses that either exceed in magnitude or differ in breadth and/or function from those observed in this trial.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, U.S. National Institute of Health; Merck Research Laboratories
Intracellular cytokine staining (ICS) by multiparameter flow cytometry is one of the primary methods for determining T cell immunogenicity in HIV-1 clinical vaccine trials. Data analysis requires considerable expertise and time. The amount of data is quickly increasing as more and larger trials are performed, and thus there is a critical need for high throughput methods of data analysis.
A web based flow cytometric analysis system, LabKey Flow, was developed for analyses of data from standardized ICS assays. A gating template was created manually in commercially-available flow cytometric analysis software. Using this template, the system automatically compensated and analyzed all data sets. Quality control queries were designed to identify potentially incorrect sample collections.
Comparison of the semi-automated analysis performed by LabKey Flow and the manual analysis performed using FlowJo software demonstrated excellent concordance (concordance correlation coefficient >0.990). Manual inspection of the analyses performed by LabKey Flow for 8-color ICS data files from several clinical vaccine trials indicates that template gates can appropriately be used for most data sets.
The semi-automated LabKey Flow analysis system can analyze accurately large ICS data files. Routine use of the system does not require specialized expertise. This high-throughput analysis will provide great utility for rapid evaluation of complex multiparameter flow cytometric measurements collected from large clinical trials.
Flow Cytometry; Intracellular Cytokine Staining; HIV-1; vaccine; T cell; immunogenicity; data analysis; automation
Candidate HIV-1 vaccines currently being evaluated in clinical trials are designed to elicit HIV-1-specific cellular immunity. Intracellular cytokine staining (ICS) assays allow sensitive, quantitative ex vivo assessments of antigen-specific T cells including immunophenotyping of responding cells and measurement of multiple effector functions. Additionally, the use of banked cryopreserved PBMC samples makes this assay attractive in the setting of large efficacy trials where it is less feasible to perform immunoassays on freshly isolated samples. Here we describe extensive studies to optimize and quantitatively validate the 8-color ICS assay for use in clinical trials of candidate vaccines, which includes measurement of viable IFN-γ, IL-2, TNF-α and IL-4 secreting CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. We show that omission of viability dye staining results in an over-estimate of the true antigen-specific T cell response by up to two-fold. After optimization, the 8-color assay was validated for specificity, precision, linearity, limit of quantitation and robustness. The assay has a lower quantitation limit, generally below 0.04%, depending on the cytokine subset. Additionally, with appropriate gating, the 8-color assay gives comparable cytokine-positive responses to those observed with the conventional 4-color assay. In conclusion, we provide the first description of a quantitatively validated ICS assay, which permits quantitative and qualitative evaluation of vaccine-induced immunogenicity and analysis of immune correlates of protection.
Flow cytometry; intracellular cytokine staining; vaccine; immunogenicity; assay validation
There is currently intensive research on the design of novel human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) vaccine immunogens that can elicit potent neutralizing antibodies. A prerequisite for comparing and optimizing these strategies is the ability to precisely measure neutralizing antibody responses. To this end, we sought to develop an assay that directly quantifies single-round HIV-1 infection of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). Initial experiments demonstrated that essentially all productively infected PBMC could be identified by flow cytometric detection of intracellular p24 antigen (p24-Ag). After infection of PBMC with HIV-1, p24+ lymphocytes could be distinguished beginning 1 day postinfection, and the majority of CD8− T cells were p24-Ag positive by 3 to 4 days postinfection. To directly quantify first-round infection, we included a protease inhibitor in PBMC cultures. The resulting 2-day assay was highly sensitive and specific for the detection of HIV-1-infected PBMC. Serial dilutions of virus stocks demonstrated that the number of target cells infected was directly related to the amount of infectious virus input into the assay. In neutralization assays, the flow cytometric enumeration of first-round infection of PBMC provided quantitative data on the number of target cells infected and on the inactivation of infectious virus due to reaction with antibody. We also used this single-round assay to compare the percentage of cells expressing p24-Ag to the number of copies of HIV-1 gag per 100 PBMC. The precision and reproducibility of this assay will facilitate the measurement of HIV-1 neutralization, particularly incrementally improved neutralizing antibody responses generated by new candidate vaccines.