Background: Dendritic cell (DC) therapy is a promising technology for the treatment of HIV infected individuals. HIV-1 Gag- and Nef RNA-loaded DC have previously been shown to induce immune responses ex vivo following coculture with autologous lymphocytes. However, polyfunctionality and memory responses following coculture have not been evaluated. In addition, little is known regarding whether specific HIV-1 proteome components, such as highly conserved regions of the HIV-1, could enhance clinical responses following DC therapy.
Methodology and principal findings: To determine the breadth of the immune responses to antigen loaded DC, we analyzed polyfunctional T cell response ex vivo to Gag RNA loaded DC. Blood samples were used to generate monocyte derived DC, which were then matured and cocultured with autologous lymphocytes. We found that cytokine-matured DC loaded with Gag RNA was able to induce Gag-specific IFN-γ and IL-2 responses after a 12-day coculture. We characterized these responses by polyfunctional intracellular cytokine staining and evaluation of T cell memory phenotypes. Central memory CD8+ T cells were induced ex vivo after DC coculture from each of 3 patients, and the effector memory pool was increased by DC coculture from 2 patients. We also observed a decrease in the terminal effector and intermediate CD8+ T cell pool and an increase in the naïve/other population. There was a reduction in terminal effector and intermediate CD4+ T cells, and a corresponding increase in naïve/other CD4+ T cells. Finally, we evaluated conserved regions of Gag as a novel DC therapy immunogen and found that a conserved element (CE) p24 Gag antigen elicited IFN-γ and IL-2 responses comparable to those induced by a full-length Gag antigen.
Conclusions: We showed that RNA-loaded DC therapy induced a polyfunctional T cell response ex vivo, supporting the use of such DC-therapy for HIV infection. However, the central and effector memory phenotypes of T cells did not appear to be enhanced during coculture with Gag RNA-loaded DC. Furthermore, comparable antigen-specific responses were induced in HIV infected individuals using full-length Gag or only conserved elements of the Gag p24 protein. This indicates that immune responses can be focused onto the conserved elements of Gag in the absence of other Gag components.
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