Antigen structure influences helper T-cell epitope dominance in the human immune response to HIV envelope glycoprotein gp120

Eur J Immunol. 2008 May;38(5):1231-7. doi: 10.1002/eji.200738011.


The development of an effective vaccine against HIV/AIDS has been hampered, in part, by a poor understanding of the rules governing helper T-cell epitope immunodominance. Studies in mice have shown that antigen structure modulates epitope immunodominance by affecting the processing and subsequent presentation of helper T-cell epitopes. Previous epitope mapping studies showed that the immunodominant helper T-cell epitopes in mice immunized with gp120 were found flanking flexible loops of the protein. In this report, we show that helper T-cell epitopes against gp120 in humans infected with HIV are also found flanking flexible loops. Immunodominant epitopes were found to be located primarily in the outer domain, an average of 12 residues C-terminal to flexible loops. In the less immunogenic inner domain, epitopes were found an average of five residues N-terminal to conserved regions of the protein, once again placing the epitopes C-terminal to flexible loops. These results show that antigen structure plays a significant role in the shaping of the helper T-cell response against HIV gp120 in humans. This relationship between antigen structure and helper T-cell epitope immunodominance may prove to be useful in the development of rationally designed vaccines against pathogens such as HIV.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antigen Presentation / immunology
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte / analysis
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte / immunology*
  • HIV Envelope Protein gp120 / chemistry
  • HIV Envelope Protein gp120 / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunodominant Epitopes / analysis
  • Immunodominant Epitopes / immunology*
  • Interferon-gamma / metabolism
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / immunology
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / metabolism
  • Models, Immunological
  • Protein Conformation
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism


  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte
  • HIV Envelope Protein gp120
  • Immunodominant Epitopes
  • Interferon-gamma