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Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1)-specific CD8+ T-cell responses generated during acute infection play a critical role in the initial control of viremia. However, little is known about the viral T-cell epitopes targeted during acute infection or about their hierarchy in appearance and relative immunodominance over time. In this study, HIV-1-specific CD8+ T-cell responses in 18 acutely infected individuals expressing HLA-A3 and/or -B7 were characterized. Detailed analysis of CD8 responses in one such person who underwent treatment of acute infection followed by reexposure to HIV-1 through supervised treatment interruptions (STI) revealed recognition of only two cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) epitopes during symptomatic acute infection. HIV-1-specific CD8+ T-cell responses broadened significantly during subsequent exposure to the virus, ultimately targeting 27 distinct CTL epitopes, including 15 different CTL epitopes restricted by a single HLA class I allele (HLA-A3). The same few peptides were consistently targeted in an additional 17 persons expressing HLA-A3 and/or -B7 during acute infection. These studies demonstrate a consistent pattern in the development of epitope-specific responses restricted by a single HLA allele during acute HIV-1 infection, as well as persistence of the initial pattern of immunodominance during subsequent STI. In addition, they demonstrate that HIV-1-specific CD8+ T-cell responses can ultimately target a previously unexpected and unprecedented number of epitopes in a single infected individual, even though these are not detectable during the initial exposure to virus. These studies have important implications for vaccine design and evaluation.

Original publication




Journal article


J Virol

Publication Date





8690 - 8701


Acute Disease, Amino Acid Sequence, Antiretroviral Therapy, Highly Active, CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes, Cell Line, Drug Administration Schedule, HIV Infections, HIV-1, HLA-A3 Antigen, HLA-B7 Antigen, Humans, Immunodominant Epitopes, Molecular Sequence Data, Peptides, Viral Proteins