For the development of an effective HIV-1 vaccine, evolutionarily conserved epitopes between feline and human immunodeficiency viruses (FIV and HIV-1) were determined by analyzing overlapping peptides from retroviral genomes that induced both anti-FIV/HIV T cell-immunity in the peripheral blood mononuclear cells from the FIV-vaccinated cats and the HIV-infected humans. The conserved T-cell epitopes on p24 and reverse transcriptase were selected based on their robust FIV/HIV-specific CD8⁺ cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL), CD4⁺ CTL, and polyfunctional T-cell activities. Four such evolutionarily conserved epitopes were formulated into four multiple antigen peptides (MAPs), mixed with an adjuvant, to be tested as FIV vaccine in cats. The immunogenicity and protective efficacy were evaluated against a pathogenic FIV. More MAP/peptide-specific CD4⁺ than CD8⁺ T-cell responses were initially observed. By post-third vaccination, half of the MAP/peptide-specific CD8⁺ T-cell responses were higher or equivalent to those of CD4⁺ T-cell responses. Upon challenge, 15/19 (78.9%) vaccinated cats were protected, whereas 6/16 (37.5%) control cats remained uninfected, resulting in a protection rate of 66.3% preventable fraction (p = 0.0180). Thus, the selection method used to identify the protective FIV peptides should be useful in identifying protective HIV-1 peptides needed for a highly protective HIV-1 vaccine in humans.
Keywords: FIV vaccine; HIV-1; T cell epitopes; cytotoxic T lymphocyte; polyfunctional T cells.