PloS one 2016 4 2911(4) e0153849 doi 10.1371/journal.pone.0153849
Strategies to develop a functional cure for HIV infection will likely require boosting of effector T cell responses to eliminate reactivated, latently infected cells. We have recently explored an assay for assessing antigen-specific regulation of T cell proliferation, which was related to clinical progression in untreated patients and to vaccine efficacy in two trials of therapeutic Gag-based vaccines. We here expand the same assay to further investigate regulation mediated by various inhibitory pathways. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells from 26 asymptomatic HIV-infected, antiretroviral therapy-naïve patients were stimulated with Gag and Env overlapping peptide panels for 5 days. Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) blocking inhibitory mediators interleukin (IL) 10, transforming growth factor (TGF) β, programmed death ligand (PD-L) 1 and herpes virus entry mediator (HVEM) were added to parallel cultures. Functional T cell regulation (FTR) was defined as the difference in proliferation between stimulated cultures with and without blocking mAbs. FTR was detected in 54% of patients. Blockade of IL-10/PD-L1 and IL10/TGF-β detected all cases with Gag- and Env-associated FTR, respectively. In accordance with previous findings, isolated Env FTR was associated with higher plasma HIV RNA and lower CD4 counts, while patients with both Gag and Env FTR also had higher Gag- and Env-specific proliferative CD8+ T cell responses. There was no association between FTR and frequencies of activated regulatory T cells. In conclusion, we observed substantial heterogeneity in FTR between patients, inhibitory pathways and HIV antigens. FTR may help to individualize immunomodulation and warrants further assessment in clinical immunotherapy trials.