Therapeutic immunization in chronic HIV infection aims to induce durable, HIV-specific immune responses capable of controlling disease progression, but immunological correlates of clinical efficacy are poorly defined. We have previously immunized 38 patients with a mixture of four short Gag p24-like conserved peptides (Vacc-4x) targeting skin dendritic cells. Antiretroviral treatment (ART) was initially stopped after completed immunizations and resumed post-protocol during regular clinical follow-up according to current guidelines. Four years after enrolment, Vacc-4x-specific cellular responses were evaluated in vivo by delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) skin test, and in vitro by a T-cell proliferation assay. Kaplan-Meier product-limit estimates were used to analyse time until ART was resumed. Peptide-specific cellular immune responses induced by Vacc-4x had persisted 4 years after the last immunization in terms of unchanged DTH independent of ART and detectable proliferative T-cell responses which correlated to the native peptides (R = 0.73, p = 0.01). Circulating bifunctional (IFN-γ and IL-10) Vacc-4x-specific T-cell clones were detected in 43% of patients. Subjects with the strongest post-immunization DTH responses appeared to start ART later compared with DTH low responders (p = 0.07). These data suggest that DTH responses should be further evaluated as a new and convenient tool for predicting clinical efficacy in trials testing therapeutic immunizations.
© 2011 The Authors. APMIS © 2011 APMIS.