Sunshine JE, Larsen BB, Maust B, Casey E, Deng W, Chen L, Westfall DH, Kim M, Zhao H, Ghorai S, Lanxon-Cookson E, Rolland M, Collier AC, Maenza J, Mullins JI, Frahm N (2015). Fitness-Balanced Escape Determines Resolution of Dynamic Founder Virus Escape Processes in HIV-1 Infection. Journal of virology, 89(20), 10303-18. (pubmed) (doi)
To understand the interplay between host cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) responses and the mechanisms by which HIV-1 evades them, we studied viral evolutionary patterns associated with host CTL responses in six linked transmission pairs. HIV-1 sequences corresponding to full-length p17 and p24 gag were generated by 454 pyrosequencing for all pairs near the time of transmission, and seroconverting partners were followed for a median of 847 days postinfection. T-cell responses were screened by gamma interferon/interleukin-2 (IFN-γ/IL-2) FluoroSpot using autologous peptide sets reflecting any Gag variant present in at least 5% of sequence reads in the individual’s viral population. While we found little evidence for the occurrence of CTL reversions, CTL escape processes were found to be highly dynamic, with multiple epitope variants emerging simultaneously. We found a correlation between epitope entropy and the number of epitope variants per response (r = 0.43; P = 0.05). In cases in which multiple escape mutations developed within a targeted epitope, a variant with no fitness cost became fixed in the viral population. When multiple mutations within an epitope achieved fitness-balanced escape, these escape mutants were each maintained in the viral population. Additional mutations found to confer escape but undetected in viral populations incurred high fitness costs, suggesting that functional constraints limit the available sites tolerable to escape mutations. These results further our understanding of the impact of CTL escape and reversion from the founder virus in HIV infection and contribute to the identification of immunogenic Gag regions most vulnerable to a targeted T-cell attack.