Long-term persistence of HIV-1 vaccine-induced CD4+CD45RACD62LCCR7 memory T-helper cells

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Objective:To determine in chimpanzees if candidate HIV-1 subunit protein vaccines were capable of eliciting long-lasting T-cell memory responses in the absence of viral infection, and to determine the specific characteristics of these responses.Design:A longitudinal study of cell-mediated immune responses induced in three chimpanzees following immunization with subunit envelope glycoproteins of either HIV-1 or herpes simplex virus (HSV)-2. Following these pre-clinical observations, four human volunteers who had been immunized 7 years previously with the same HIV-1 vaccine candidate donated blood for assessment of immune responses.Methods:Responses were monitored by protein and peptide based ELISpot assays, lymphocyte proliferation, and intracellular cytokine staining. Humoral responses were assessed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and virus neutralization assays.Results:Although antigen (Ag)-specific CD4 T-cell responses persisted for at least 5 years in chimpanzees, CD8 T-cell responses were discordant and declined within 2 years. Detailed cellular analyses revealed that strong Th1 in addition to Th2 type responses were induced by AS2/gp120 and persisted, whereas CD8 T-cell memory declined in peripheral blood. The specificity of both Th and cytotoxic T-lymphocyte responses revealed that the majority of responses were directed to conserved epitopes. The remarkable persistence of Ag-specific CD4 T-cell memory was characterized as a population of the CD45RACD62LCCR7 ‘effector phenotype’ producing the cytokines IFNγ, IL-2 and IL-4 upon epitope-specific recognition. Importantly, results in chimpanzees were confirmed in peripheral blood of one of four human volunteers studied more than 7 years after immunization.Conclusion:These studies demonstrate that epitope-specific Th1 and Th2 cytokine-dependent Th responses can be induced and maintained for longer than 5 years by immunization with subunit proteins of HIV-1.

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