Mullins Molecular Retrovirology Lab

  • Department of Microbiology
  • School of Medicine
  • University of Washington
University of Washington/Fred Hutch Center for AIDS Research

Citation Information

Altfeld M, Addo MM, Shankarappa R, Lee PK, Allen TM, Yu XG, Rathod A, Harlow J, O'Sullivan K, Johnston MN, Goulder PJ, Mullins JI, Rosenberg ES, Brander C, Korber B, Walker BD (2003). Enhanced detection of human immunodeficiency virus type 1-specific T-cell responses to highly variable regions by using peptides based on autologous virus sequences. Journal of virology, 77(13), 7330-40. (pubmed)


The antigenic diversity of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) represents a significant challenge for vaccine design as well as the comprehensive assessment of HIV-1-specific immune responses in infected persons. In this study we assessed the impact of antigen variability on the characterization of HIV-1-specific T-cell responses by using an HIV-1 database to determine the sequence variability at each position in all expressed HIV-1 proteins and a comprehensive data set of CD8 T-cell responses to a reference strain of HIV-1 in infected persons. Gamma interferon Elispot analysis of HIV-1 clade B-specific T-cell responses to 504 overlapping peptides spanning the entire expressed HIV-1 genome derived from 57 infected subjects demonstrated that the average amino acid variability within a peptide (entropy) was inversely correlated to the measured frequency at which the peptide was recognized (P = 6 x 10(-7)). Subsequent studies in six persons to assess T-cell responses against p24 Gag, Tat, and Vpr peptides based on autologous virus sequences demonstrated that 29% (12 of 42) of targeted peptides were only detected with peptides representing the autologous virus strain compared to the HIV-1 clade B consensus sequence. The use of autologous peptides also allowed the detection of significantly stronger HIV-1-specific T-cell responses in the more variable regulatory and accessory HIV-1 proteins Tat and Vpr (P = 0.007). Taken together, these data indicate that accurate assessment of T-cell responses directed against the more variable regulatory and accessory HIV-1 proteins requires reagents based on autologous virus sequences. They also demonstrate that CD8 T-cell responses to the variable HIV-1 proteins are more common than previously reported.