Specific major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I alleles are associated with an increased frequency of spontaneous control of human and simian immunodeficiency viruses (HIV and SIV). The mechanism of control is thought to involve MHC class I-restricted CD8+ T cells, but it is not clear whether particular CD8+ T cell responses or a broad repertoire of epitope-specific CD8+ T cell populations (termed T cell breadth) is principally responsible for mediating immunologic control. To test the hypothesis that heterozygous macaques control SIV replication as a function of superior T cell breadth, we infected MHC-homozygous and MHC-heterozygous cynomolgus macaques with the pathogenic virus SIVmac239. As measured by IFN-γ ELISPOT in blood, T cell breadth did not differ significantly between homozygotes and heterozygotes. Surprisingly, macaques that controlled SIV replication, regardless of their MHC zygosity, shared durable T cell responses against similar regions of Nef. While the limited genetic variability in these animals prevents us from making generalizations about the importance of Nef-specific T cell responses in controlling HIV, these results suggest that the T cell-mediated control of virus replication that we observed is more likely the consequence of targeting specificity rather than T cell breadth.
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