Background: HIV-1 eradication may require reactivation of latent virus along with stimulation of HIV-1-specific immune responses to clear infected cells. Immunization with autologous dendritic cells (DCs) transfected with viral mRNA is a promising strategy for eliciting HIV-1-specific immune responses. We performed a randomized controlled clinical trial to evaluate the immunogenicity of this approach in HIV-1-infected persons on antiretroviral therapy.
Methods: Fifteen participants were randomized 2:1 to receive intradermal immunization with HIV-1 Gag- and Nef-transfected DCs (vaccine) or mock-transfected DCs (placebo) at weeks 0, 2, 6, and 10. All participants also received DCs pulsed with keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH) to assess whether responses to a neo-antigen could be induced.
Results: After immunization, there were no differences in interferon-gamma enzyme-linked immunospot responses to HIV-1 Gag or Nef in the vaccine or placebo group. CD4 proliferative responses to KLH increased 2.4-fold (P = 0.026) and CD8 proliferative responses to KLH increased 2.5-fold (P = 0.053) after vaccination. There were increases in CD4 proliferative responses to HIV-1 Gag (2.5-fold vs. baseline, 3.4-fold vs. placebo, P = 0.054) and HIV-1 Nef (2.3-fold vs. baseline, 6.3-fold vs. placebo, P = 0.009) among vaccine recipients, but these responses were short-lived.
Conclusion: Immunization with DCs transfected with mRNA encoding HIV-1 Gag and Nef did not induce significant interferon-gamma enzyme-linked immunospot responses. There were increases in proliferative responses to HIV-1 antigens and to a neo-antigen, KLH, but the effects were transient. Dendritic cell vaccination should be optimized to elicit stronger and long-lasting immune responses for this strategy to be effective as an HIV-1 therapeutic vaccine.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00833781.