HIV-specific CD8+ T cells play a major role in the control of virus during HIV primary infection (PI) but do not completely prevent viral replication. We used IFN-γ enzyme-linked immunospot assay and intracellular staining to characterize the ex vivo CD8+ T-cell responses to a large variety of HIV epitopic peptides in 24 subjects with early HIV PI. We observed HIV-specific responses in 71% of subjects. Gag and Nef peptides were more frequently recognized than Env and Pol peptides. The number of peptides recognized was low (median 2, range 0–6). In contrast, a much broader response was observed in 30 asymptomatic subjects with chronic infection: all were responders with a median of 5 peptides recognized (range 1–13). The frequency of HIV-specific CD8+ T cells among PBMC for a given peptide was of the same order of magnitude in both groups. The proportion of HIV-specific CD8+CD28– terminally differentiated T cells was much lower in PI than at the chronic stage of infection. The weakness of the immune response during HIV PI could partially account for the failure to control HIV. These findings have potential importance for defining immunotherapeutic strategies and establishing the goals for effective vaccination.


Marc Dalod, Marion Dupuis, Jean-Christophe Deschemin, Cécile Goujard, Christiane Deveau, Laurence Meyer, Nicole Ngo, Christine Rouzioux, Jean-Gérard Guillet, Jean-François Delfraissy, Martine Sinet, Alain Venet


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