Dendritic cells are able to present viral antigens to T-cells after uptake of apoptotic bodies derived from virus-infected cells. Immunization with virus-infected apoptotic cells was previously shown to induce HIV-specific immune responses in mice. Here we evaluate the safety and immunogenicity of immunization with activated apoptotic cells in non-human primates using autologous T-cells infected with replication defective VSV pseudotyped SIV(mac239)Δenv. Animals were immunized with γ-irradiated activated T-cells carrying the VSVenvSIV(mac239)Δenv pseudovirus. SIV Gag-specific cellular immune responses were induced as early as two weeks after the first immunization eliciting a biased IFN-γ and IL-2 response. In addition, induction of SIV Gag-specific antibody responses and high titer neutralizing activity against the SIV pseudovirus harboring a VSV-env were detected after two immunizations. The vaccinated group and a control group of Chinese rhesus macaques were intravenously challenged with pathogenic SIV(mac251.) All animals became infected, but SIV-replication was effectively suppressed (below 100 copies/ml) in several animals in both groups. However the group immunized with apoptotic cells revealed better preservation of the gut CD4(+) T-cell compartment. Viral control was inversely correlated with an early (4 weeks) but transient increase in the percentage of Ki67(+)CD4(+) peripheral blood T-cells (Spearman -0.73). We here show that immunizations with activated apoptotic lymphocytes expressing transduced SIV genes result in induction of both cellular and humoral immune responses. This study provides evidence for an immunological principle demonstrating that certain apoptotic cells can be considered as carriers of antigens directing immune responses in macaques.
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