The lysis of infected host cells by virus-specific cytolytic T lymphocytes (CTL) is an important factor in host resistance to viral infection. An optimal vaccine against human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) would elicit virus-specific CTL as well as neutralizing antibodies. The induction by a vaccine of HIV-1-specific CD8+ CTL in humans has not been previously reported. In this study, CTL responses were evaluated in HIV-1-seronegative human volunteers participating in a phase I acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) vaccine trial involving a novel vaccine regimen. Volunteers received an initial immunization with a live recombinant vaccinia virus vector carrying the HIV-1 env gene and a subsequent boost with purified env protein. An exceptionally strong env-specific CTL response was detected in one of two vaccine recipients, while modest but significant env-specific CTL activity was present in the second vaccinee. Cloning of the responding CTL gave both CD4+ and CD8+ env-specific CTL clones, permitting a detailed comparison of critical functional properties of these two types of CTL. In particular, the potential antiviral effects of these CTL were evaluated in an in vitro system involving HIV-1 infection of cultures of normal autologous CD4+ lymphoblasts. At extremely low effector-to-target ratios, vaccine-induced CD8+ CTL clones lysed productively infected cells present within these cultures. When tested for lytic activity against target cells expressing the HIV-1 env gene, CD8+ CTL were 3-10-fold more active on a per cell basis than CD4+ CTL. However, when tested against autologous CD4+ lymphoblasts acutely infected with HIV-1, CD4+ clones lysed a much higher fraction of the target cell population than did CD8+ CTL. CD4+ CTL were shown to recognize not only the infected cells within these acutely infected cultures but also noninfected CD4+ T cells that had passively taken up gp120 shed from infected cells and/or free virions. These results were confirmed in studies in which CD4+ lymphoblasts were exposed to recombinant gp120 and used as targets for gp120-specific CD4+ and CD8+ CTL clones. gp120-pulsed, noninfected targets were lysed in an antigen-specific fashion by CD4+ but not CD8+ CTL clones. Taken together, these observations demonstrate that in an in vitro HIV-1 infection, sufficient amounts of gp120 antigen are produced and shed by infected cells to enable uptake by cells that are not yet infected, resulting in the lysis of these noninfected cells by gp120-specific, CD4+ CTL.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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