Confirmation of Immunogenic Consensus Sequence HIV-1 T-Cell Epitopes in Bamako, Mali and Providence, Rhode Island

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The design of epitope-driven vaccines for HIV has been significantly hampered by concerns about conservation of vaccine epitopes across clades of HIV. In previous work, we have described a computer-driven method for a cross-clade HIV vaccine comprised of overlapping, highly conserved helper T-cell epitopes or “immunogenic consensus sequence epitopes” (ICS epitopes). Here, we evaluated and compared the immunogenicity of 20 ICS HIV epitopes in ELISpot assays performed using peripheral blood monocytes (PBMC) from HIV-infected donors in Providence, Rhode Island, USA and in Bamako, Mali, West Africa. Each core 9-mer HIV sequence contained in a given consensus peptide was conserved in at least 105 to as many as 2,250 individual HIV-1 strains. Nineteen of the 20 ICS epitopes (95%) were confirmed in ELISpot assays using PBMC obtained from 13 healthy, HIV-1 infected subjects in Providence, and thirteen of the epitopes (65%) were confirmed in ELISpot assays using PBMC derived from 42 discarded blood units obtained at the Central Blood Bank in Bamako. Twelve of the epitopes were confirmed in ELISpot assays performed both in Providence and Bamako. These data confirm the utility of bioinformatics tools to select and design novel vaccines containing “immunogenic consensus sequence” T-cell epitopes for a globally relevant vaccine against HIV; a similar approach may also be useful for any pathogen that exhibits high variability (influenza, HCV, or variola for example). An HIV vaccine containing these immunogenic consensus sequences is currently under development.

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