Antisense-Derived HIV-1 Cryptic Epitopes Are Not Major Drivers of Viral Evolution during the Acute Phase of Infection
Peng BJ., Carlson JM., Liu MKP., Gao F., Goonetilleke N., McMichael AJ., Borrow P., Gilmour J., Heath SL., Hunter E., Bansal A., Goepfert PA.
Although prior studies demonstrated that cryptic epitopes of HIV-1 induce CD8 T cell responses, evidence that targeting these epitopes drives HIV escape mutations has been substantially limited, and no studies have addressed this question following acute infection. In this comprehensive study, we utilized longitudinal viral sequencing data obtained from three separate acute infection cohorts to predict potential cryptic epitopes based on HLA-I-associated viral escape. Our data show that cryptic epitopes are immunogenic during acute infection and that many of the responses they elicit are toward translation products of HIV-1 antisense reading frames. However, despite cryptic epitope targeting, our study did not find any evidence of early CD8-mediated immune escape. Nevertheless, improving cryptic epitope-specific CD8 T cell responses may still be beneficial in both preventative and therapeutic HIV-1 vaccines.