The enormous sequence diversity of HIV-1 remains a major obstacle to the development of an effective prophylactic vaccine. Human APOBEC3G and 3F proteins are potent inhibitors of Vif-deficient HIV-1. HIV-1 Vif counteracts APOBEC 3G and 3F by inducing their ubiquitination and subsequent degradation by the proteasome. Increased proteasomal processing of APOBEC could lead to presentation of APOBEC-derived peptide epitopes on the surface of HIV-1-infected cells. Because higher levels of APOBEC antigens might be present on the surface of HIV-infected cells, APOBEC epitopes could, therefore, serve as a surrogate marker of HIV-1 infection. Targeting CD8+ T cells to HIV-1-infected cells based on increased APOBEC epitope expression could circumvent the obstacle of HIV-1 sequence diversity. We have generated preliminary data that shows HIV-1 infected elite controllers mount strong T cell responses to epitopes derived from the APOBEC3G sequence. We have also discovered that elite-controlling SIV-infected macaques mount APOBEC specific T cell responses. Based upon these initial observations, we hypothesize that lentiviral infection generates APOBEC-specific CD8+ T cells, which are capable of recognizing and eliminating virally infected cells. Further, a vaccine immunogen using APOBEC sequences could generate APOBEC specific T cells, which could recognize and kill a cell infected with any variant of HIV-1. This novel approach targets infected cells based on their presentation of APOBEC derived peptides, not HIV-1 peptides. The central goal of our R21 is to understand the contribution of APOBEC epitope-specific responses to the total cellular immune response directed at HIV-1 and SIV. These studies will dictate whether we proceed to the R33 stage of the plan. We have two goals for the R33. We want to know whether APOBEC-specific CD8+ T cells arising during retroviral infections can recognize and eliminate virally infected cells. Additionally, we want to determine whether vaccine-induced APOBEC-specific cellular immune responses might provide control of viral replication after SIV infection. We hypothesize that T cells specific for Vif-sensitive APOBEC proteins will suppress viral replication both in vitro and in vivo. This project would provide proof-of-principle data that APOBEC-specific T cells specifically suppress replication of SIV/HIV-1. These studies are, therefore, the first steps towards a novel vaccine approach, which circumvents the obstacle of HIV-1 sequence diversity by targeting a surrogate marker of HIV infection.
The goal of this R21/33 proposal is to determine which APOBEC epitopes are recognized in HIV-1 infected subjects and in SIV infected macaques. An APOBEC vaccine will be tested in a macaque challenge protection model. This information will be used to design a novel ?no HIV-1?vaccine against HIV-1/AIDS.