Characterization of CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses in HIV-1 C-Clade infection.
HIV-1 specific CD4+ T cell activity in clade C infected subjects has not been studied. CD4+ T cells play a vital role in controlling infectious diseases and there is a need to augment our knowledge of HIV immunology to aid vaccine design. We therefore embarked on a study to characterize HIV-1 specific CD4+ T cell activity in both adults and infants; assess the relationship between CD4+ and CD8+ immune responses; and the relationship between CD4+ T cell activity and markers of disease progression (viral loads and CD4 counts). Our study revealed that the magnitude of CD8+ T cell responses correlated significantly with CD4+ T cell responses, but that the percentage of CD8+ T cells directed against HIV-1 was always greater than that of CD4+ T cells. Gag was the frequently targeted HIV-1 protein by CD4+ T cells and had the highest density of epitopes targeted by CD4+ T cells. Patients with either a dominant CD4 or CD8 T cell response against Gag had significantly lower viral loads than patients in whom non-Gag proteins were the main target (p< 0.0001 for CD4 activity and p= 0.007 for CD8 responses). Single IFN- producing CD4+ T cells were present in significantly higher numbers than cells producing both IFN- and IL-2 simultaneously (p=0.009). Gag also dominated the CD4+ T cell response in acutely infected infants with IFN- production detected more frequently than IL-2 or TNF- . Longitudinal analysis of infants receiving early ARV treatment and then ceasing after 12 months revealed that early treatment conferred no protection against increasing viremia and disease progression. CD4+ T cell responses were detected sporadically in untreated infants indicating a dysfunctional immune response in the face of constant exposure to high levels of viremia. Taken together, the data reveal that a vaccine inducing Gag specific CD4+ T cell responses has the potential to confer some degree of protection, but other immunological parameters need to be investigated especially in infants.