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Numerous studies now support that human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) evolution is influenced by immune selection pressure, with population studies showing an association between specific HLA alleles and mutations within defined cytotoxic T-lymphocyte epitopes. Here we combine sequence data and functional studies of CD8 T-cell responses to demonstrate that allele-specific immune pressures also select for mutations flanking CD8 epitopes that impair antigen processing. In persons expressing HLA-A3, we demonstrate consistent selection for a mutation in a C-terminal flanking residue of the normally immunodominant Gag KK9 epitope that prevents its processing and presentation, resulting in a rapid decline in the CD8 T-cell response. This single amino acid substitution also lies within a second HLA-A3-restricted epitope, with the mutation directly impairing recognition by CD8 T cells. Transmission of the mutation to subjects expressing HLA-A3 was shown to prevent the induction of normally immunodominant acute-phase responses to both epitopes. However, subsequent in vivo reversion of the mutation was coincident with delayed induction of new CD8 T-cell responses to both epitopes. These data demonstrate that mutations within the flanking region of an HIV-1 epitope can impair recognition by an established CD8 T-cell response and that transmission of these mutations alters the acute-phase CD8(+) T-cell response. Moreover, reversion of these mutations in the absence of the original immune pressure reveals the potential plasticity of immunologically selected evolutionary changes.

Original publication




Journal article


J Virol

Publication Date





7069 - 7078


Amino Acid Sequence, Amino Acid Substitution, Antigen Presentation, Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte, Evolution, Molecular, Gene Products, gag, HIV Antigens, HIV Infections, HIV-1, HLA-A3 Antigen, Humans, Immunodominant Epitopes, Molecular Sequence Data, Selection, Genetic, T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic, Viral Proteins, gag Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus