Background: Effective therapy for HIV-infected individuals remains an unmet medical need. Promising clinical trials with dendritic cell (DC)-based immunotherapy consisting of autologous DC loaded with autologous virus have been reported, however, these approaches depend on large numbers of HIV virions to generate sufficient doses for even limited treatment regimens.
Methodology/principal findings: The present study describes a novel approach for RT-PCR amplification of HIV antigens. Previously, RT-PCR amplification of autologous viral sequences has been confounded by the high mutation rate of the virus which results in unreliable primer-template binding. To resolve this problem we developed a multiplex RT-PCR strategy that allows reliable strain-independent amplification of highly polymorphic target antigens from any patient and requires neither viral sequence data nor custom-designed PCR primers for each individual. We demonstrate the application of our RT-PCR process to amplify translationally-competent RNA encoding regions of Gag, Vpr, Rev and Nef. The products amplified using this method represent a complex mixture of autologous antigens encoded by viral quasispecies. We further demonstrate that DCs electroporated with in vitro-transcribed HIV RNAs are capable of stimulating poly-antigen-specific CD8+ T cell responses in vitro.
Conclusion/significance: This study describes a strategy to overcome patient to patient viral diversity enabling strain-independent RT-PCR amplification of RNAs encoding sequence divergent quasispecies of Gag, Vpr, Rev and Nef from small volumes of infectious plasma. The approach allows creation of a completely autologous therapy that does not require advance knowledge of the HIV genomic sequences, does not have yield limitations and has no intact virus in the final product. The simultaneous use of autologous viral antigens and DCs may provoke broad patient-specific immune responses that could potentially induce effective control of viral loads in the absence of conventional antiretroviral drug therapy.