Characterization of the cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) response against HIV-1 has been limited by the use of target cells expressing viral proteins from laboratory isolates of HIV-1. This approach has favored identification of group-specific CTL responses and precluded assessment of the extent of type-specific CTL responses directed against HIV-1. Using cells expressing viral proteins from the HIV-1 IIIB strain, we performed a detailed characterization of HIV-1-specific CTL response in three laboratory workers accidentally infected with HIV-1 IIIB. Eight of the epitopes identified were group specific, lying in relatively conserved regions of Gag, reverse transcriptase, and envelope. Three type-specific epitopes were identified, two of them in highly variable regions of envelope. In longitudinal studies in one subject, seven different epitopes and five different restricting HLA class I alleles were identified, with a progressive increase in the number of CTL epitopes recognized by this subject over time. Our data demonstrate that type-specific CTL responses make up a significant proportion of the host cellular immune response against HIV-1 and that a broadening of epitope specificity may occur.
N V Sipsas, S A Kalams, A Trocha, S He, W A Blattner, B D Walker, R P Johnson