We investigated the hypothesis that the correlation between the class I HLA types of an individual and whether that individual spontaneously controls HIV-1 is mediated by the targeting of specific epitopes by CD8+ T cells. By measuring gamma interferon enzyme-linked immunosorbent spot (ELISPOT) assay responses to a panel of 257 optimally defined epitopes in 341 untreated HIV-infected persons, including persons who spontaneously control viremia, we found that the correlation between HLA types and control is mediated by the targeting of specific epitopes. Moreover, we performed a graphical model-based analysis that suggested that the targeting of specific epitopes is a cause of such control-that is, some epitopes are protective rather than merely associated with control-and identified eight epitopes that are significantly protective. In addition, we use an in silico analysis to identify protein regions where mutations are likely to affect the stability of a protein, and we found that the protective epitopes identified by the ELISPOT analysis correspond almost perfectly to such regions. This in silico analysis thus suggests a possible mechanism for control and could be used to identify protective epitopes that are not often targeted in natural infection but that may be potentially useful in a vaccine. Our analyses thus argue for the inclusion (and exclusion) of specific epitopes in an HIV vaccine.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science