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Primary human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is controlled principally by HIV-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) to a steady-state level of virus load, which strongly influences the ultimate rate of progression to disease. Epitope selection by CTL may be an important determinant of the degree of immune control over the virus. This report describes the CTL responses of two HLA-identical hemophiliac brothers who were exposed to identical batches of Factor VIII and became seropositive within 10 wk of one another. Both have HLA-A*0201. The CTL responses of the two siblings were very dissimilar, one donor making strong responses to two epitopes within p17 Gag (HLA-A*0201-restricted SLYNTVATL and HLA-A3-restricted RLRPGGKKK). The sibling responded to neither epitope, but made strong responses to two epitopes presented by HLA-B7. This was not the result of differences in presentation of the epitopes. However, mutations in both immunodominant epitopes of the p17 Gag responder were seen in proviral sequences of the nonresponder. We then documented the CTL responses to two HLA-A*0201-restricted epitopes, in Gag (SLYNTVATL) and Pol (ILKEPVHGV) in 22 other HIV-infected donors with HLA-A*0201. The majority (71%) generated responses to the Gag epitope. In the 29% of donors failing to respond to the Gag epitope in standard assays, there was evidence of low frequency memory CTL responses using peptide stimulation of PBMC, and most of these donors also showed mutations in or around the Gag epitope. We concluded that HLA class I genotype determines epitope selection initially but that mutation in immunodominant epitopes can profoundly alter the pattern of CTL response.

Original publication




Journal article


J Exp Med

Publication Date





1423 - 1433


Amino Acid Sequence, Cytotoxicity, Immunologic, Epitopes, Gene Products, gag, Gene Products, pol, HIV Infections, HIV-1, HLA-A Antigens, Hemophilia A, Humans, Immunity, Cellular, Molecular Sequence Data, Nuclear Family, T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic