Infectious and inflammatory diseases have repeatedly shown strong genetic associations within the major histocompatibility complex (MHC); however, the basis for these associations remains elusive. To define host genetic effects on the outcome of a chronic viral infection, we performed genome-wide association analysis in a multiethnic cohort of HIV-1 controllers and progressors, and we analyzed the effects of individual amino acids within the classical human leukocyte antigen (HLA) proteins. We identified >300 genome-wide significant single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within the MHC and none elsewhere. Specific amino acids in the HLA-B peptide binding groove, as well as an independent HLA-C effect, explain the SNP associations and reconcile both protective and risk HLA alleles. These results implicate the nature of the HLA–viral peptide interaction as the major factor modulating durable control of HIV infection.
We investigated the hypothesis that the correlation between the class I HLA types of an individual and whether that individual spontaneously controls HIV-1 is mediated by the targeting of specific epitopes by CD8+ T cells. By measuring gamma interferon enzyme-linked immunosorbent spot (ELISPOT) assay responses to a panel of 257 optimally defined epitopes in 341 untreated HIV-infected persons, including persons who spontaneously control viremia, we found that the correlation between HLA types and control is mediated by the targeting of specific epitopes. Moreover, we performed a graphical model-based analysis that suggested that the targeting of specific epitopes is a cause of such control—that is, some epitopes are protective rather than merely associated with control—and identified eight epitopes that are significantly protective. In addition, we use an in silico analysis to identify protein regions where mutations are likely to affect the stability of a protein, and we found that the protective epitopes identified by the ELISPOT analysis correspond almost perfectly to such regions. This in silico analysis thus suggests a possible mechanism for control and could be used to identify protective epitopes that are not often targeted in natural infection but that may be potentially useful in a vaccine. Our analyses thus argue for the inclusion (and exclusion) of specific epitopes in an HIV vaccine.
IMPORTANCE Some individuals naturally control HIV replication in the absence of antiretroviral therapy, and this ability to control is strongly correlated with the HLA class I alleles that they express. Here, in a large-scale experimental study, we provide evidence that this correlation is mediated largely by the targeting of specific CD8+ T-cell epitopes, and we identify eight epitopes that are likely to cause control. In addition, we provide an in silico analysis indicating that control occurs because mutations within these epitopes change the stability of the protein structures. This in silico analysis also identified additional epitopes that are not typically targeted in natural infection but may lead to control when included in a vaccine, provided that other epitopes that would otherwise distract the immune system from targeting them are excluded from the vaccine.
Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) B*27 and B*57 are associated with protection against HIV-1 disease progression, yet most persons expressing these alleles are unable to control HIV-1. Here we show that HLA-B*27-restricted CD8+ T cells in controllers and progressors differ in their ability to inhibit virus replication through targeting of the immunodominant Gag epitope. This is associated with distinct TCR clonotypes, characterized by superior control of HIV-1 replication in vitro, greater cross-reactivity against epitope variants, and enhanced perforin delivery. Clonotype-specific differences in antiviral efficacy were also observed for an immunodominant HLA-B*57 restricted response in controllers and progressors. Thus, the efficacy of protective alleles is modulated by specific TCR clonotypes selected in natural infection, providing a functional explanation for divergent HIV-1 outcomes.
Allotypes of the natural killer (NK) cell receptor KIR3DL1 vary in both NK cell expression patterns and inhibitory capacity upon binding to their ligands, HLA-B Bw4 molecules, present on target cells. Using a sample size of over 1,500 human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)+ individuals, we show that various distinct allelic combinations of the KIR3DL1 and HLA-B loci significantly and strongly influence both AIDS progression and plasma HIV RNA abundance in a consistent manner. These genetic data correlate very well with previously defined functional differences that distinguish KIR3DL1 allotypes. The various epistatic effects observed here for common, distinct KIR3DL1 and HLA-B Bw4 combinations are unprecedented with regard to any pair of genetic loci in human disease, and indicate that NK cells may have a critical role in the natural history of HIV infection.
Resting memory CD4+ T-cells harboring latent HIV proviruses represent a critical barrier to viral eradication. Histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACis), such as suberanilohydroxamic acid (SAHA), romidepsin, and panobinostat have been shown to induce HIV expression in these resting cells. Recently, it has been demonstrated that the low levels of viral gene expression induced by a candidate HDACi may be insufficient to cause the death of infected cells by viral cytopathic effects, necessitating their elimination by immune effectors, such as cytotoxic T-lymphocytes (CTL). Here, we study the impact of three HDACis in clinical development on T-cell effector functions. We report two modes of HDACi-induced functional impairment: i) the rapid suppression of cytokine production from viable T-cells induced by all three HDACis ii) the selective death of activated T-cells occurring at later time-points following transient exposures to romidepsin or, to a lesser extent, panobinostat. As a net result of these factors, HDACis impaired CTL-mediated IFN-γ production, as well as the elimination of HIV-infected or peptide-pulsed target cells, both in liquid culture and in collagen matrices. Romidepsin exerted greater inhibition of antiviral function than SAHA or panobinostat over the dose ranges tested. These data suggest that treatment with HDACis to mobilize the latent reservoir could have unintended negative impacts on the effector functions of CTL. This could influence the effectiveness of HDACi-based eradication strategies, by impairing elimination of infected cells, and is a critical consideration for trials where therapeutic interruptions are being contemplated, given the importance of CTL in containing rebound viremia.
The advent of antiretroviral therapy has greatly improved the prognosis for HIV-infected individuals with access to care. However, current therapies are unable to cure infection, committing treated individuals to a lifetime of medication with significant economic burden. Furthermore, it has become clear that antiretroviral therapy does not completely restore health, leaving treated HIV-infected individuals at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders, and other health issues. Thus, there is a need to develop therapies capable of curing HIV infection. It is thought that, to be successful, curative strategies will need to combine a means to flush the virus out of the latently-infected cells in which it hides, with a means to kill these unmasked targets. A front-running approach proposes to use a class of drugs called histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACis) as flushing agents, with cytotoxic T-lymphocytes (CTL, or killer T-cells) to purge viral reservoirs. Here, we uncover an unexpected negative interaction between these two agents, whereby HDACis suppress the ability of CTL to kill HIV-infected cells. This interaction has the potential to limit the effectiveness of combining CTL with HDACis in flush and kill approaches to HIV eradication, and should be considered in the prioritization and optimization of potential curative strategies.
Viral immune evasion by sequence variation is a major hindrance to HIV-1 vaccine design. To address this challenge, our group has developed a computational model, rooted in physics, that aims to predict the fitness landscape of HIV-1 proteins in order to design vaccine immunogens that lead to impaired viral fitness, thus blocking viable escape routes. Here, we advance the computational models to address previous limitations, and directly test model predictions against in vitro fitness measurements of HIV-1 strains containing multiple Gag mutations. We incorporated regularization into the model fitting procedure to address finite sampling. Further, we developed a model that accounts for the specific identity of mutant amino acids (Potts model), generalizing our previous approach (Ising model) that is unable to distinguish between different mutant amino acids. Gag mutation combinations (17 pairs, 1 triple and 25 single mutations within these) predicted to be either harmful to HIV-1 viability or fitness-neutral were introduced into HIV-1 NL4-3 by site-directed mutagenesis and replication capacities of these mutants were assayed in vitro. The predicted and measured fitness of the corresponding mutants for the original Ising model (r = −0.74, p = 3.6×10−6) are strongly correlated, and this was further strengthened in the regularized Ising model (r = −0.83, p = 3.7×10−12). Performance of the Potts model (r = −0.73, p = 9.7×10−9) was similar to that of the Ising model, indicating that the binary approximation is sufficient for capturing fitness effects of common mutants at sites of low amino acid diversity. However, we show that the Potts model is expected to improve predictive power for more variable proteins. Overall, our results support the ability of the computational models to robustly predict the relative fitness of mutant viral strains, and indicate the potential value of this approach for understanding viral immune evasion, and harnessing this knowledge for immunogen design.
At least 70 million people have been infected with HIV since the beginning of the epidemic and an effective vaccine remains elusive. The high mutation rate and diversity of HIV strains enables the virus to effectively evade host immune responses, presenting a significant challenge for HIV vaccine design. We have developed an approach to translate clinical databases of HIV sequences into mathematical models quantifying the capacity of the virus to replicate as a function of mutations within its genome. We have previously shown how such “fitness landscapes” can be used to guide the design of vaccines to attack vulnerable regions from which it is difficult for the virus to escape by mutation. Here, using new modeling approaches, we have improved on our previous models of HIV fitness landscape by accounting for undersampling of HIV sequences and the specific identity of mutant amino acids. We experimentally tested the accuracy of the improved models to predict the fitness of HIV with multiple mutations in the Gag protein. The experimental data are in strong agreement with model predictions, supporting the value of these models as a novel approach for determining mutational vulnerabilities of HIV-1, which, in turn, can inform vaccine design.
Cellular HIV-1 reservoirs that persist despite antiretroviral treatment are incompletely defined. We show that during suppressive antiretroviral therapy, CD4+ T memory stem cells (TSCM) harbor high per-cell levels of HIV-1 DNA, and make increasing contributions to the total viral CD4+ T cell reservoir over time. Moreover, phylogenetic studies suggested long-term persistence of viral quasispecies in CD4+ TSCM cells. Thus, HIV-1 may exploit stem cell characteristics of cellular immune memory to promote long-term viral persistence.
Although many new prevention modalities that include the use of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) show promise, there is no question that a global solution to the HIV epidemic will not be economically or logistically feasible without the development of vaccine that provides durable protection. In the best case scenario, the vaccine has to protect against acquisition of infection, likely mediated by Env-specific B cell responses combined with CD4+ T cell responses to evoke full maturation and maintenance of protective antibodies. But HIV-specific CD8+ T cell responses are also likely to be a key element, particularly for those inevitable situations in which full vaccine-induced protection from acquisition is not achieved, in which case durable control of established infection will be required. Although there is reason to be optimistic that an effective HIV vaccine is possible, one of the major constraints moving forward will likely be constraints on funding to support a diversity of concepts at a time that the correlates of protection from acquisition and disease progression are still unknown. Given the scope of the epidemic and the economic climate, we must strive to do much more with less and seek to access additional resources, both scientific and monetary, from every possible source.
Vaccine; Antiretrovirals; Economy
Vaccines are among the greatest successes in the history of public health. However, past strategies for vaccine development are unlikely to succeed in the future against major global diseases such as AIDS, TB, and malaria. For such diseases, the correlates of protection are poorly defined and the pathogens evade immune detection and/or exhibit extensive genetic variability. Recent advances have heralded in a new era of vaccine discovery. However, translation of these advances into vaccines remains impeded by lack of understanding of key vaccinology principles in humans. We review these advances towards vaccine discovery and suggest that for accelerating successful vaccine development, new human immunology-based clinical research initiatives be implemented with the goal of elucidating and more effectively inducing vaccine-induced protective immune responses.
HLA-restricted immune escape mutations that persist following HIV transmission could gradually spread through the viral population, thereby compromising host antiviral immunity as the epidemic progresses. To assess the extent and phenotypic impact of this phenomenon in an immunogenetically diverse population, we genotypically and functionally compared linked HLA and HIV (Gag/Nef) sequences from 358 historic (1979–1989) and 382 modern (2000–2011) specimens from four key cities in the North American epidemic (New York, Boston, San Francisco, Vancouver). Inferred HIV phylogenies were star-like, with approximately two-fold greater mean pairwise distances in modern versus historic sequences. The reconstructed epidemic ancestral (founder) HIV sequence was essentially identical to the North American subtype B consensus. Consistent with gradual diversification of a “consensus-like” founder virus, the median “background” frequencies of individual HLA-associated polymorphisms in HIV (in individuals lacking the restricting HLA[s]) were ∼2-fold higher in modern versus historic HIV sequences, though these remained notably low overall (e.g. in Gag, medians were 3.7% in the 2000s versus 2.0% in the 1980s). HIV polymorphisms exhibiting the greatest relative spread were those restricted by protective HLAs. Despite these increases, when HIV sequences were analyzed as a whole, their total average burden of polymorphisms that were “pre-adapted” to the average host HLA profile was only ∼2% greater in modern versus historic eras. Furthermore, HLA-associated polymorphisms identified in historic HIV sequences were consistent with those detectable today, with none identified that could explain the few HIV codons where the inferred epidemic ancestor differed from the modern consensus. Results are therefore consistent with slow HIV adaptation to HLA, but at a rate unlikely to yield imminent negative implications for cellular immunity, at least in North America. Intriguingly, temporal changes in protein activity of patient-derived Nef (though not Gag) sequences were observed, suggesting functional implications of population-level HIV evolution on certain viral proteins.
Upon HIV transmission, many – though not all – immune escape mutations selected in the previous host will revert to the consensus residue. The persistence of certain escape mutations following transmission has led to concerns that these could gradually accumulate in circulating HIV sequences over time, thereby undermining host antiviral immune potential as the epidemic progresses. As certain immune-driven mutations reduce viral fitness, their spread through the population could also have consequences for the average replication capacity and/or protein function of circulating HIV sequences. Here, we characterized HIV sequences, linked to host immunogenetic information, from patients enrolled in historic (1979–1989) and modern (2000–2011) HIV cohorts from four key cities in the North American epidemic. We reconstructed the epidemic's ancestral (founder) HIV sequence and assessed the subsequent extent to which known HIV immune escape mutations have spread in the population. Our data support the gradual spread of many - though not all - immune escape mutations in HIV sequences over time, but to an extent that is unlikely to have major immediate immunologic consequences for the North American epidemic. Notably, in vitro assessments of ancestral and patient-derived HIV sequences suggested functional implications of ongoing HIV evolution for certain viral proteins.
The contribution of HLA class II-restricted CD4+ T cell responses to HIV immune control is poorly defined. Here, we delineated novel peptide-DRB1 restrictions in functional assays and analyzed the host genetic effects of HLA-DRB1 alleles on HIV viremia in a large cohort of HIV controllers and progressors (n=1085). We found distinct stratifications in the effect of HLA-DRB1 alleles on HIV viremia, with DRB1*15:02 significantly associated with low viremia (P=0.003, q=0.04) and DRB1*03:01 significantly associated with high viremia (P=0.004, q=0.04). Interestingly, a sub-group of HLA-DRB1 alleles linked with low viremia showed the ability to promiscuously present a larger breadth of peptides with lower functional avidity when compared to HLA-DRB1 alleles linked with high viremia (p=0.018). Our data provide systematic evidence that HLA-DRB1 allele expression significantly impacts the durable control of HIV replication, an effect that appears to be mediated primarily by the protein-specificity of HIV-specific CD4+ T cell responses to Gag and Nef.
HLA-B*57 is strongly associated with immune control of HIV and delayed AIDS progression. The closely related, but less protective, HLA-B*58:01 presents similar epitopes, but HLA-B*58:01+ individuals do not generate CD8+ T cells targeting the KF11-Gag epitope, which has been linked to low viremia. Here we show that HLA-B*58:01 binds and presents KF11 peptide, but HIV-infected HLA-B*58:01+ cells fail to process KF11. This unexpected finding demonstrates that immunodominance patterns can be influenced by intracellular events independent of HLA binding motifs.
Successful vaccine development for infectious diseases has largely been achieved in settings where natural immunity to the pathogen results in clearance in at least some individuals. HIV presents an additional challenge in that natural clearance of infection does not occur, and the correlates of immune protection are still uncertain. However, partial control of viremia and markedly different outcomes of disease are observed in HIV infected persons. Here we examine the antiviral mechanisms implicated by one variable that has been consistently associated with extremes of outcome, namely HLA class I alleles, and in particular HLA-B, and examine the mechanisms by which this modulation is likely to occur, and the impact of these interactions on evolution of the virus and the host. Studies to date provide evidence for both HLA-dependent and epitope-dependent influences on viral control and viral evolution, and have important implications for the continued quest for an effective HIV vaccine.
A prophylactic or therapeutic vaccine offers the best hope to curb the HIV-AIDS epidemic gripping sub-Saharan Africa, but remains elusive. A major challenge is the extreme viral sequence variability among strains. Systematic means to guide immunogen design for highly variable pathogens like HIV are not available. Using computational models, we have developed an approach to translate available viral sequence data into quantitative landscapes of viral fitness as a function of the amino acid sequences of its constituent proteins. Predictions emerging from our computationally defined landscapes for the proteins of HIV-1 clade B Gag were positively tested against new in vitro fitness measurements, and were consistent with previously defined in vitro measurements and clinical observations. These landscapes chart the peaks and valleys of viral fitness as protein sequences change, and inform the design of immunogens and therapies that can target regions of the virus most vulnerable to selection pressure.
Natural progression of HIV-1 infection depends on genetic variation in the human major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I locus, and the CD8+ T cell response is thought to be a primary mechanism of this effect. However, polymorphism within the MHC may also alter innate immune activity against human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) by changing interactions of human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I molecules with leukocyte immunoglobulin-like receptors (LILR), a group of immunoregulatory receptors mainly expressed on myelomonocytic cells including dendritic cells (DCs). We used previously characterized HLA allotype-specific binding capacities of LILRB1 and LILRB2 as well as data from a large cohort of HIV-1-infected individuals (N = 5126) to test whether LILR-HLA class I interactions influence viral load in HIV-1 infection. Our analyses in persons of European descent, the largest ethnic group examined, show that the effect of HLA-B alleles on HIV-1 control correlates with the binding strength between corresponding HLA-B allotypes and LILRB2 (p = 10−2). Moreover, overall binding strength of LILRB2 to classical HLA class I allotypes, defined by the HLA-A/B/C genotypes in each patient, positively associates with viral replication in the absence of therapy in patients of both European (p = 10−11–10−9) and African (p = 10−5–10−3) descent. This effect appears to be driven by variations in LILRB2 binding affinities to HLA-B and is independent of individual class I allelic effects that are not related to the LILRB2 function. Correspondingly, in vitro experiments suggest that strong LILRB2-HLA binding negatively affects antigen-presenting properties of DCs. Thus, we propose an impact of LILRB2 on HIV-1 disease outcomes through altered regulation of DCs by LILRB2-HLA engagement.
Leukocyte immunoglobulin-like receptors B1 and B2 (LILRB1 and LILRB2) bind HLA class I allotypes with variable affinities. Here, we show that the binding strength of LILRB2 to HLA class I positively associates with level of viremia in a large cohort of untreated HIV-1-infected patients. This effect appears to be driven by HLA-B polymorphism and demonstrates independence from class I allelic effects on viral load. Our in vitro experiments suggest that strong LILRB2-HLA binding negatively affects antigen-presenting properties of dendritic cells (DCs). Thus, we propose an impact of LILRB2 on HIV-1 immune control through altered regulation of DCs by LILRB2-HLA engagement.
Polyvalent “mosaic” HIV immunogens offer a potential solution for generating vaccines that can elicit immune responses against genetically diverse viruses. However, it is unclear whether key T cell epitopes can be processed and presented from these synthetic antigens and recognized by epitope-specific human T cells. Here we tested the ability of mosaic HIV immunogens expressed by recombinant, replication-incompetent adenovirus serotype 26 vectors to process and present major HIV clade B and clade C CD8 T cell epitopes in human cells. A bivalent mosaic vaccine expressing HIV Gag sequences was used to transduce PBMC from 12 HIV-1-infected individuals from the US and 10 HIV-1-infected individuals from South Africa, and intracellular cytokine staining together with tetramer staining was used to assess the ability of mosaic Gag antigens to stimulate pre-existing memory responses compared to natural clade B and C vectors. Mosaic Gag antigens expressed all 8 clade B epitopes tested in 12 US subjects and all 5 clade C epitopes tested in 10 South African subjects. Overall, the magnitude of cytokine production induced by stimulation with mosaic antigens was comparable to clade B and clade C antigens tested, but the mosaic antigens elicited greater cross-clade recognition. Additionally, mosaic antigens also induced HIV-specific CD4 T cell responses. Our studies demonstrate that mosaic antigens express major clade B and clade C viral T cell epitopes in human cells, and support the evaluation of mosaic HIV-1 vaccines in humans.
Immune control of viral infections is modulated by diverse T cell receptor (TCR) clonotypes engaging peptide-MHC class I complexes on infected cells, but the relationship between TCR structure and antiviral function is unclear. Here we apply in silico molecular modeling with in vivo mutagenesis studies to investigate TCR-pMHC interactions from multiple CTL clonotypes specific for a well-defined HIV-1 epitope. Our molecular dynamics simulations of viral peptide-HLA-TCR complexes, based on two independent co-crystal structure templates, reveal that effective and ineffective clonotypes bind to the terminal portions of the peptide-MHC through similar salt bridges, but their hydrophobic side-chain packings can be very different, which accounts for the major part of the differences among these clonotypes. Non-specific hydrogen bonding to viral peptide also accommodates greater epitope variants. Furthermore, free energy perturbation calculations for point mutations on the viral peptide KK10 show excellent agreement with in vivo mutagenesis assays, with new predictions confirmed by additional experiments. These findings indicate a direct structural basis for heterogeneous CTL antiviral function.
The dissemination of HIV from an initial site of infection is facilitated by motile HIV-infected CD4+ T-cells. However, the impact of infected target cell migration on antigen recognition by HIV-specific CD8+ T-cells is unclear. Using a 3D in vitro model of tissue, we visualized dynamic interactions between HIV-infected or peptide-pulsed CD4+ T-cells and HIV-specific CD8+ T-cells. CTLs engaged motile HIV-infected targets, but ∼50% of targets broke contact and escaped. In contrast, immobilized target cells were readily killed, indicating target motility directly inhibits CD8+ T-cell function. Strong calcium signals occurred in CTLs killing a motile target but calcium signaling was weak or absent in CTLs which permitted target escape. Neutralization of adhesion receptors LFA-1 and CD58 inhibited CD8+ T-cell function within the 3D matrix, demonstrating that efficient motile target lysis as dependent on adhesive engagement of targets. Antigen sensitivity (a convolution of antigen density, TCR avidity and CD8 coreceptor binding) is also critical for target recognition. We modulated this parameter (known as functional avidity but referred to here as “avidity” for the sake of simplicity) by exploiting common HIV escape mutations and measured their impact on CTL function at the single-cell level. Targets pulsed with low avidity mutant antigens frequently escaped while CTLs killed targets bearing high avidity antigen with near-perfect efficiency. CTLs engaged, arrested, and killed an initial target bearing high avidity antigen within minutes, but serial killing was surprisingly rare. CD8 cells remained committed to their initial dead target for hours, accumulating TCR signals that sustained secretion of soluble antiviral factors. These data indicate that high-avidity CD8+ T-cells execute an antiviral program in the precise location where antigen has been sensed: CTL effector functions are spatiotemporally coordinated with an early lytic phase followed by a sustained stationary secretory phase to control local viral infection.
Early immunological events during acute HIV infection are thought to fundamentally influence long-term disease outcome. Whereas the contribution of HIV-specific CD8 T cell responses to early viral control is well established, the role of HIV-specific CD4 T cell responses in the control of viral replication following acute infection is unknown. A growing body of evidence suggests that CD4 T cells - besides their helper function - have the capacity to directly recognize and kill virally infected cells. In a longitudinal study of a cohort of individuals acutely infected with HIV, we observed that subjects able to spontaneously control HIV replication in the absence of antiretroviral therapy showed a significant expansion of HIV-specific CD4 T cell responses—but not CD8 T cell responses–compared to subjects who progressed to a high viral set point (p=0.038). Strikingly, this expansion occurred prior to differences in viral load or CD4 T cell count and was characterized by robust cytolytic activity and expression of a distinct profile of perforin and granzymes at the earliest time point. Kaplan-Meier analysis revealed that the emergence of Granzyme A+ HIV-specific CD4 T cell responses at baseline was highly predictive of slower disease progression and clinical outcome (average days to CD4 T cell count <350/μl was 575 versus 306, p=0.001). These data demonstrate that HIV-specific CD4 T cell responses can be used during the earliest phase of HIV infection as an immunological predictor of subsequent viral set point and disease outcome. Moreover, these data suggest that expansion of Granzyme A+ HIV-specific cytolytic CD4 T cell responses early during acute HIV infection contributes substantially to the control of viral replication.
Antigen-specific CD8 T cells play a critical role in controlling HIV infection but eventually lose antiviral functions in part because of expression and signaling through the inhibitory PD-1 receptor. To better understand the impact of prolonged TCR ligation on regulation of PD-1 expression in HIV-specific CD8 T cells we investigated the capacity of virus-specific CD8 T cells to modify the PD-1 epigenetic program following reduction in viral load. We observed that the transcriptional regulatory region was unmethylated in the PD-1hi HIV-specific CD8 T cells while it remained methylated in donor matched naïve cells at acute and chronic stages of infection. Surprisingly, the PD-1 promoter remained unmethylated in HIV-specific CD8 T cells from subjects with a viral load controlled by antiviral therapy for greater than 2 years or from elite controllers. Together these data demonstrate that the epigenetic program at the PD-1 locus becomes fixed following prolonged exposure to HIV virus.
High expression of CD161 on CD8+ T cells is associated with a population of cells thought to play a role in mucosal immunity. We wished to investigate this subset in an HIV and Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) endemic African setting.
A flow cytometric approach was used to assess the frequency and phenotype of CD161++CD8+ T cells. 80 individuals were recruited for cross-sectional analysis: controls (n = 13), latent MTB infection (LTBI) only (n = 14), pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) only (n = 9), HIV only (n = 16), HIV and LTBI co-infection (n = 13) and HIV and TB co-infection (n = 15). The impact of acute HIV infection was assessed in 5 individuals recruited within 3 weeks of infection. The frequency of CD161++CD8+ T cells was assessed prior to and during antiretroviral therapy (ART) in 14 HIV-positive patients.
CD161++CD8+ T cells expressed high levels of the HIV co-receptor CCR5, the tissue-homing marker CCR6, and the Mucosal-Associated Invariant T (MAIT) cell TCR Vα7.2. Acute and chronic HIV were associated with lower frequencies of CD161++CD8+ T cells, which did not correlate with CD4 count or HIV viral load. ART was not associated with an increase in CD161++CD8+ T cell frequency. There was a trend towards lower levels of CD161++CD8+ T cells in HIV-negative individuals with active and latent TB. In those co-infected with HIV and TB, CD161++CD8+ T cells were found at low levels similar to those seen in HIV mono-infection.
The frequencies and phenotype of CD161++CD8+ T cells in this South African cohort are comparable to those published in European and US cohorts. Low-levels of this population were associated with acute and chronic HIV infection. Lower levels of the tissue-trophic CD161++ CD8+ T cell population may contribute to weakened mucosal immune defense, making HIV-infected subjects more susceptible to pulmonary and gastrointestinal infections and detrimentally impacting on host defense against TB.
Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) controllers maintain viremia at <2,000 RNA copies/ml without antiretroviral therapy. Viruses from controllers with chronic infection were shown to exhibit impaired replication capacities, in part associated with escape mutations from cytotoxic-T-lymphocyte (CTL) responses. In contrast, little is known about viruses during acute/early infection in individuals who subsequently become HIV controllers. Here, we examine the viral replication capacities, HLA types, and virus sequences from 18 HIV-1 controllers identified during primary infection. gag-protease chimeric viruses constructed using the earliest postinfection samples displayed significantly lower replication capacities than isolates from persons who failed to control viremia (P = 0.0003). Protective HLA class I alleles were not enriched in these early HIV controllers, but viral sequencing revealed a significantly higher prevalence of drug resistance mutations associated with impaired viral fitness in controllers than in noncontrollers (6/15 [40.0%] versus 10/80 [12.5%], P = 0.018). Moreover, of two HLA-B57-positive (B57+) controllers identified, both harbored, at the earliest time point tested, signature escape mutations within Gag that likewise impair viral replication capacity. Only five controllers did not express “protective” alleles or harbor viruses with drug resistance mutations; intriguingly, two of them displayed typical B57 signature mutations (T242N), suggesting the acquisition of attenuated viruses from B57+ donors. These data indicate that acute/early stage viruses from persons who become controllers have evidence of reduced replication capacity during the initial stages of infection which is likely associated with transmitted or acquired CTL escape mutations or transmitted drug resistance mutations. These data suggest that viral dynamics during acute infection have a major impact on HIV disease outcome.
HLA-B alleles are associated with viral control in chronic HIV-1 infection, however, their role in primary HIV-1 disease is unclear. This study sought to determine the role of HLA-B alleles in viral control during the acute phase of HIV-1 infection and establishment of the early viral load set point (VLSP).
Individuals identified during primary HIV-1 infection were HLA class I typed and followed longitudinally. Associations between HLA-B alleles and HIV-1 viral replication during acute infection and VLSP were analyzed in untreated subjects. The results showed that neither HLA-B*57 nor HLA-B*27 were significantly associated with viral control during acute HIV-1 infection (Fiebig stage I-IV, n=171). HLA-B*57 was however significantly associated with a subsequent lower VLSP (p<0.001, n=135) with nearly 1 log10 less median viral load. Analysis of a known polymorphism at position 97 of HLA-B showed significant associations with both lower initial viral load (p<0.01) and lower VLSP (p<0.05). However, this association was dependent on different amino acids at this position for each endpoint.
The effect of HLA-B*57 on viral control is more pronounced during the later stages of primary HIV-1 infection, which suggests the underlying mechanism of control occurs at a critical period in the first several months after HIV-1 acquisition. The risk profile of polymorphisms at position 97 of HLA-B are more broadly associated with HIV-1 viral load during primary infection and may serve as a focal point in further studies of HLA-B function.
HLA-B*57; HLA-B; Acute HIV-1 infection; Primary HIV-1 infection; Viral load set point; MHC class I
Regulatory T cells (Tregs) are potent immune modulators, but their precise role in HIV pathogenesis remains incompletely understood. Most studies to date have focused on frequencies or phenotypes of “bulk” Treg populations. However, although antigen-specific Tregs have been reported in other diseases, HIV-1-epitope specific Tregs have not been described to date. We here report the first identification of functional HIV-1-Gag-specific regulatory T cells using human leukocyte antigen class II tetramer staining in HIV-1-infected individuals.
Despite numerous attempts over many years to develop an HIV vaccine based on classical strategies, none has convincingly succeeded to date. A number of approaches are being pursued in the field, including building upon possible efficacy indicated by the recent RV144 clinical trial, which combined two HIV vaccines. Here, we argue for an approach based, in part, on understanding the HIV envelope spike and its interaction with broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs) at the molecular level and using this understanding to design immunogens as possible vaccines. BnAbs can protect against virus challenge in animal models and many such antibodies have been isolated recently. We further propose that studies focused on how best to provide T cell help to B cells that produce bnAbs are crucial for optimal immunization strategies. The synthesis of rational immunogen design and immunization strategies, together with iterative improvements, offers great promise for advancing toward an HIV vaccine.