PloS one 2017 03 0912(3) e0173352 doi 10.1371/journal.pone.0173352
In an effort to make affordable vaccines suitable for the regions most affected by HIV-1, we have constructed stable vaccines that express an HIV-1 subtype C mosaic Gag immunogen (BCG-GagM, MVA-GagM and DNA-GagM). Mosaic immunogens have been designed to address the tremendous diversity of this virus. Here we have shown that GagM buds from cells infected and transfected with MVA-GagM and DNA-GagM respectively and forms virus-like particles. Previously we showed that a BCG-GagM prime MVA-GagM boost generated strong cellular immune responses in mice. In this study immune responses to the DNA-GagM and MVA-GagM vaccines were evaluated in homologous and heterologous prime-boost vaccinations. The DNA homologous prime boost vaccination elicited predominantly CD8+ T cells while the homologous MVA vaccination induced predominantly CD4+ T cells. A heterologous DNA-GagM prime MVA-GagM boost induced strong, more balanced Gag CD8+ and CD4+ T cell responses and that were predominantly of an effector memory phenotype. The immunogenicity of the mosaic Gag (GagM) was compared to a naturally occurring subtype C Gag (GagN) using a DNA homologous vaccination regimen. DNA-GagN expresses a natural Gag with a sequence that was closest to the consensus sequence of subtype C viruses sampled in South Africa. DNA-GagM homologous vaccination induced cumulative HIV-1 Gag-specific IFN-γ ELISPOT responses that were 6.5-fold higher than those induced by the DNA-GagN vaccination. Similarly, DNA-GagM vaccination generated 7-fold higher levels of cytokine-positive CD8+ T cells than DNA-GagN, indicating that this subtype C mosaic Gag elicits far more potent immune responses than a consensus-type Gag. Cells transfected and infected with DNA-GagM and MVA-GagM respectively, expressed high levels of GagM and produced budding virus-like particles. Our data indicates that a heterologous prime boost regimen using DNA and MVA vaccines expressing HIV-1 subtype C mosaic Gag is highly immunogenic in mice and warrants further investigation in non-human primates.