Approach 1: Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is associated with immune activation, CD4(+)-T-cell loss, and a progressive decline of immune functions. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) only partially reverses HIV-associated immune dysfunction, suggesting that approaches that target immune activation and improve virus-specific immune responses may be needed. We performed a preclinical study in rhesus macaques infected with the pathogenic simian immunodeficiency virus SIV(mac251) and treated with ART. We tested whether vaccination administered together with cytotoxic-T-lymphocyte-associated antigen 4 (CTLA-4) blockade and treatment with the indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) inhibitor 1-methyl-D-tryptophan (D-1mT), decreased immune activation and improved vaccine efficacy. The treatment did not augment vaccine immunogenicity;rather, it dramatically increased ART-related toxicity, causing all treated animals to succumb to acute pancreatitis and hyperglycemic coma. The onset of fulminant diabetes was associated with severe lymphocyte infiltration of the pancreas and complete loss of the islets of Langerhans. Thus, caution should be used when considering approaches aimed at targeting immune activation during ART.Approach 2: We have previously shown that interleukin-21, a pleiotropic C alpha-chain signaling cytokine, induces the expression of the cytotoxic molecules granzyme B (GrB) and perforin in vitro in CD8 T cells and NK cells of chronically HIV infected individuals. In this pilot study, four chronically SIV infected rhesus macaques (RM) in late-stage disease were given two doses of recombinant IL-21, 50 mcg/kg, intravenously 7 days apart, followed by one subcutaneous dose, 100 mcg/kg, 23 days after the second dose. Three animals served as controls. After each dose of IL-21, increases were noted in frequency and mean fluorescence intensity of GrB and perforin expression in memory and effector subsets of CD8 T cells in peripheral blood (PB), in peripheral and mesenteric lymph node (LN) cells, in PB memory and effector CD4 T cells and in NK cells. Frequencies of SIV-gag specific CD107a(+)IFN-alpha(+) CD8 T cells increased 3.8-fold in PB and 1.8-fold in LN. In addition, PB CD27(+) memory B cells were 2-fold higher and serum SIV antibodies increased significantly after IL-21 administration. No changes were observed in markers of T cell activation, T cell proliferation or plasma virus load. Thus, administration of IL-21 to chronically SIV infected viremic animals was safe, well tolerated and could augment the cytotoxic potential of T cells and NK cells, promote B cell differentiation with increases in SIV antibody titers without discernable increase in cellular activation. Further studies are warranted to elucidate the effects and potential benefit of IL-21 administration in the context of SIV/HIV infection and in SIV/HIV vaccine design.

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National Cancer Institute (NCI)
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National Cancer Institute Division of Basic Sciences
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