With over 33 million HIV-1 infections world-wide, there is no doubt that an effective HIV-1 vaccine is urgently needed. The modest and quite unexpected protection observed in the recent RV144 vaccine trial, inducing non-neutralizing antibodies, underscores the necessity of greater immunological understanding to the development of an effective vaccine. Of particular note is that the combination vaccine used in the RV144 trial elicited a robust HIV-1-specific CD4+ T cell response. Although most licensed vaccines induce high-affinity antibodies, the generation of these antibodies is critically dependent on the presence and action of CD4+ T cells. Of central importance to this process is the germinal center (GC) reaction within the lymphoid follicles, wherein the T follicular helper (TFH) cell subset plays a key role. The finely-tuned interplay of several B- and CD4+ T- cell receptors in the GC is vital for B cell maturation, proliferation, and antibody class switching. Yet at present very little is known about the role and function of TFH cells or their contribution to the control of viral infections. Moreover, little is known about the basic immunological interactions between B cells and TFH cells in humans. Recent studies demonstrated that B and TFH cells undergo a tight initial interaction, which is among other receptors mediated by the SLAM-associated protein (SAP). Mutations within SAP cause a lethal immunodeficiency, called X-linked lymphoproliferative disease. Interestingly, although early studies described an impairment of germinal center formation in progressive HIV-1 disease, it is to date unknown whether TFH cells are affected by HIV-1 infection. Moreover, it is important to consider that most HIV infections are acquired through the genital and rectal mucosa and therefore the primary sites in which a strong antiviral immune response needs to be induced. Here, local anti-HIV IgA responses that are largely absent during infection are likely to be most effective to prevent infection. The critical signals for the generation of anti-IgA antibodies are a result of TFH and B cell interactions. Thus, TFH cell responses are a key component for the generation of IgA immunity at the mucosa, and it is reasonable to believe that an understanding of the induction of these responses against HIV will be important for vaccine design. Based on our preliminary findings, we propose in specific aim #1 to assess the presence, function and differences in the phenotype of T follicular helper cells in the lymph nodes of subjects with HIV-1 infection In specific aim #2 we plan to investigate whether T follicular helper cell responses from the gastrointestinal tract are able to induce and promote anti-HIV-1 secretory IgA.
In specific aim #3, we plan to investigate the properties of the CD4+ and B cell interaction, and whether this interaction in subjects enables the generation of neutralizing antibody responses. Thus, this proposal aims to study the central interaction of B cells and TFH cells in HIV-1 infection and its impact on the generation of HIV-1 protection on mucosal surfaces
With 33 million HIV-1 infected individuals world-wide an HIV-1 vaccine is urgently needed. The recent failure of the Merck vaccine trial and the unexpected modest success of a vaccine consisting of a combination of two vaccine candidates (ALVAC/AIDSVAX;Thai trial) drastically demonstrate our poor understanding of how to develop an effective vaccine. Although most licensed vaccines induce high-affinity antibodies, the generation of these antibodies is critically dependent on the presence and action of CD4+ T cells. In particular the action of T follicular helper cells within the germinal center is critical for the induction of long-lived B cell immunity. Thus in this proposal we aim to define the role of HIV-1-specific TFH cells in the control of HIV-1 infection and their ability to induce protective immunity on mucosal surfaces.
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