Journal of virology 2017 07 12() pii 10.1128/JVI.00730-17
Prime-boost vaccination strategies against HIV-1 often include multiple variants for a given immunogen for better coverage of the extensive viral diversity. To study the immunologic effects of this approach, we characterized breadth, phenotype, function and specificity of Gag-specific T cells induced by a DNA-prime Modified Vaccinia Ankara (MVA)-boost vaccination strategy, which uses mismatched Gag immunogens in the TamoVac 01 phase IIa trial. Healthy Tanzanian volunteers received three injections of the DNA-SMI vaccine encoding for a subtype B and AB-recombinant Gagp37 and two vaccinations with MVA-CMDR encoding subtype A Gagp55 Gag-specific T-cell responses were studied in 42 vaccinees using fresh peripheral blood mononuclear cells. After the first MVA-CMDR boost, vaccine-induced IFN-γ(+) Gag-specific T cell responses were dominated by CD4(+) T cells (compared to CD8(+) T cells, p<0.001) that co-expressed IL-2 (66.4%) and/or TNFα (63.7%). A median of 3 antigenic regions were targeted with a higher median response magnitude to Gagp24 regions - more conserved between prime and boost - as compared to regions within Gagp15 (not primed) and Gagp17 (less conserved, both p<0.0001). Four regions within Gagp24 were each targeted by 45% to 74% of vaccinees upon restimulation with DNA-SMI-Gag matched peptides. The response rate to individual antigenic regions correlated with the sequence homology between the MVA and DNA Gag encoded immunogens (p=0.04, r(2)=0.47). In summary, after the first MVA-CMDR boost, the sequence-mismatched DNA-prime MVA-boost vaccine strategy induced a Gag-specific T cell response that was dominated by polyfunctional CD4(+) T cells and that targeted multiple antigenic regions within the conserved Gagp24 Protein.IMPORTANCE Genetic diversity is a major challenge for the design of vaccines against variable viruses. While including multiple variants for a given immunogen in prime-boost vaccination strategies is one approach that aims to improve coverage for global virus variants, the immunologic consequences of this strategy have been poorly defined so far. It is unclear whether inclusion of multiple variants in prime-boost vaccination strategies improves recognition of variant viruses by T cells and by which mechanisms this would be achieved; either by improved cross-recogniton of multiple variants for a given antigenic region or rather through preferential targeting of antigenic regions more conserved between prime and boost. Engineering vaccines to induce adaptive immune responses that preferentially target conserved antigenic regions of viral vulnerability might facilitate better immune control after preventive and therapeutic vaccination for HIV and for other variable viruses.