The genetic diversity of HIV-1 across the globe is a major challenge for developing an HIV vaccine. To facilitate immunogen design, it is important to characterize clusters of commonly targeted T-cell epitopes across different HIV clades. To address this, we examined 39 HIV-1 clade C infected individuals for IFN-γ Gag-specific T-cell responses using five sets of overlapping peptides, two sets matching clade C vaccine candidates derived from strains from South Africa and China, and three peptide sets corresponding to consensus clades A, B, and D sequences. The magnitude and breadth of T-cell responses against the two clade C peptide sets did not differ, however clade C peptides were preferentially recognized compared to the other peptide sets. A total of 84 peptides were recognized, of which 19 were exclusively from clade C, 8 exclusively from clade B, one peptide each from A and D and 17 were commonly recognized by clade A, B, C and D. The entropy of the exclusively recognized peptides was significantly higher than that of commonly recognized peptides (p = 0.0128) and the median peptide processing scores were significantly higher for the peptide variants recognized versus those not recognized (p = 0.0001). Consistent with these results, the predicted Major Histocompatibility Complex Class I IC50 values were significantly lower for the recognized peptide variants compared to those not recognized in the ELISPOT assay (p<0.0001), suggesting that peptide variation between clades, resulting in lack of cross-clade recognition, has been shaped by host immune selection pressure. Overall, our study shows that clade C infected individuals recognize clade C peptides with greater frequency and higher magnitude than other clades, and that a selection of highly conserved epitope regions within Gag are commonly recognized and give rise to cross-clade reactivities.
Citation: Zembe L, Burgers WA, Jaspan HB, Bekker L-G, Bredell H, et al. (2011) Intra- and Inter-clade Cross-reactivity by HIV-1 Gag Specific T-Cells Reveals Exclusive and Commonly Targeted Regions: Implications for Current Vaccine Trials. PLoS ONE 6(10): e26096. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0026096
Editor: Rupert Kaul, University of Toronto, Canada
Received: June 21, 2011; Accepted: September 19, 2011; Published: October 12, 2011
Copyright: © 2011 Zembe et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Funding: This study was made possible by the generous support of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and its donors. IAVI is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the development of safe, effective, preventive HIV vaccines for use throughout the world. For more information, go to www.iavi.org. IAVI played a direct role in study design and preparation of the manuscript. The study was also supported by South African AIDS vaccine initiative, the National Research Foundation and the Poliomyelitis Research Foundation.
Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
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