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Strong Human Endogenous Retrovirus-Specific T Cell Responses Are Associated with Control of HIV-1 in Chronic Infection

UCSF Division of Experimental Medicine, Building 3, Room 603, San Francisco General Hospital, 1001 Potrero Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94110, USA.
Journal of Virology (Impact Factor: 4.44). 07/2011; 85(14):6977-85. DOI: 10.1128/JVI.00179-11
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT

Eight percent of the human genome is composed of human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs), which are thought to be inactive remnants of ancient infections. Previously, we showed that individuals with early HIV-1 infection have stronger anti-HERV T cell responses than uninfected controls. In this study, we investigated whether these responses persist in chronic HIV-1 infection and whether they have a role in the control of HIV-1. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from 88 subjects diagnosed with HIV-1 infection for at least 1 year (median duration of diagnosis, 13 years) were tested for responses against HERV peptides in gamma interferon (IFN-γ) enzyme immunospot (ELISPOT) assays. Individuals who control HIV-1 viremia without highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) had stronger and broader HERV-specific T cell responses than HAART-suppressed patients, virologic noncontrollers, immunologic progressors, and uninfected controls (P < 0.05 for each pairwise comparison). In addition, the magnitude of the anti-HERV T cell response was inversely correlated with HIV-1 viral load (r(2) = 0.197, P = 0.0002) and associated with higher CD4(+) T cell counts (r(2) = 0.072, P = 0.027) in untreated patients. Flow cytometric analyses of an HLA-B51-restricted CD8(+) HERV response in one HIV-1-infected individual revealed a less activated and more differentiated phenotype than that stimulated by a homologous HIV-1 peptide. HLA-B51 tetramer dual staining within this individual confirmed two different T cell populations corresponding to these HERV and HIV-1 epitopes, ruling out cross-reactivity. These findings suggest a possible role for anti-HERV immunity in the control of chronic HIV-1 infection and provide support for a larger effort to design an HIV-1 vaccine that targets conserved antigens such as HERV.

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Available from: Christopher E Ormsby
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    • "HERV-K gene products are described to be overexpressed in HIV-infected individuals, and T-cell responses that are effective in lowering the HIV-1 viral load are potential therapeutic vaccine targets. So it is envisioned that a vaccine directed against HERV-K might also be valuable for the treatment of HIV-infected patients [14,15]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) are remnants of ancestral infections and chromosomally integrated in all cells of an individual, are transmitted only vertically and are defective in viral replication. However enhanced expression of HERV-K accompanied by the emergence of anti-HERV-K-directed immune responses has been observed inter-alia in HIV-infected individuals and tumor patients. Therefore HERV-K might serve as a tumor-specific antigen or even as a constant target for the development of an HIV vaccine. To verify our hypothesis, we tested the immunogenicity of HERV-K Gag by using a recombinant vaccinia virus (MVA-HKcon) expressing the HERV-K Gag protein and established an animal model to test its vaccination efficacy. Murine renal carcinoma cells (Renca) were genetically altered to express E. coli beta-galactosidase (RLZ cells) and the HERV-K Gag protein (RLZ-HKGag cells). Subcutaneous application of RLZ-HKGag cells into syngenic BALB/c mice resulted in the formation of local tumors in MVA vaccinated mice. MVA-HKcon vaccination reduced the tumor growth. Furthermore, intravenous injection of RLZ-HKGag cells led to the formation of pulmonary metastases. Vaccination of tumor-bearing mice with MVA-HKcon drastically reduced the number of pulmonary RLZ-HKGag tumor nodules compared to vaccination with wild-type MVA. The data demonstrate that HERV-K Gag is a useful target for vaccine development and might offer new treatment opportunities for cancer patients. .
    Full-text · Article · Mar 2014 · Virology Journal
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    • "These studies strengthen the concept that HIV-1 specifically induces the transcription of HERV-K (HML-2) mRNA which results in the expression of HERV-K (HML-2) proteins in HIV-1 infected cells. We have shown that an anti-HERV-K (HML-2) cellular immune response is generated in HIV-1 infected patients (HIVpos), significantly increased in elite controllers, and HERV-K specific T-cell clones can eliminate HIV-1 infected cells in vitro[26,27,29]. Whether HERV-K reactivation in HIV-1 infection leads to an anti-HERV-K (HML-2) antibody response is controversial [30]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Human Endogenous Retroviruses (HERVs) comprise about 8% of the human genome and have lost their ability to replicate or to produce infectious particles after having accumulated mutations over time. We assessed the kinetics of expression of HERV-K (HML-2) Envelope mRNA transcript and surface unit (SU) and transmembrane (TM) subunit proteins during HIV-1 infection. We also mapped the specificity of the humoral response to HERV-K (HML-2) Envelope protein in HIV-1 infected subjects at different stages of disease, and correlated the response with plasma viral load. We found that HIV-1 modified HERV-K (HML-2) Env mRNA expression, resulting in the expression of a fully N-glycosylated HERV-K (HML-2) envelope protein on the cell surface. Serological mapping of HERV-K (HML-2) envelope protein linear epitopes revealed two major immunogenic domains, one on SU and another on the ectodomain of TM. The titers of HERV-K (HML-2) TM antibodies were dramatically increased in HIV-1 infected subjects (p < 0.0001). HIV-1 infected adults who control HIV-1 in the absence of therapy ("elite" controllers) had a higher titer response against TM compared to antiretroviral-treated adults (p < 0.0001) and uninfected adults (p < 0.0001). These data collectively suggest that HIV-1 infection induces fully glycosylated HERV-K (HML-2) envelope TM protein to which antibodies are induced. These anti-HERV-K (HML-2) TM antibodies are a potential marker of HIV-1 infection, and are at higher titer in elite controllers. HERV-K (HML-2) envelope TM protein may be a new therapeutic target in HIV-1 infection.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2014 · Retrovirology
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    • "Another pathological state associated with HERV-K expression is HIV-1 infection, where multiple reports suggest that endogenous retroviruses might be a useful and invariable target for immunotherapy [41]. In this case, cell-mediated immune responses directed against HERV-K correlated with control of HIV-1 viremia [21], [22]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Human endogenous retrovirus (HERV) genomes are chromosomally integrated in all cells of an individual. They are normally transcriptionally silenced and transmitted only vertically. Enhanced expression of HERV-K accompanied by the emergence of anti-HERV-K-directed immune responses has been observed in tumor patients and HIV-infected individuals. As HERV-K is usually not expressed and immunological tolerance development is unlikely, it is an appropriate target for the development of immunotherapies. We generated a recombinant vaccinia virus (MVA-HKenv) expressing the HERV-K envelope glycoprotein (ENV), based on the modified vaccinia virus Ankara (MVA), and established an animal model to test its vaccination efficacy. Murine renal carcinoma cells (Renca) were genetically altered to express E. coli beta-galactosidase (RLZ cells) or the HERV-K ENV gene (RLZ-HKenv cells). Intravenous injection of RLZ-HKenv cells into syngenic BALB/c mice led to the formation of pulmonary metastases, which were detectable by X-gal staining. A single vaccination of tumor-bearing mice with MVA-HKenv drastically reduced the number of pulmonary RLZ-HKenv tumor nodules compared to vaccination with wild-type MVA. Prophylactic vaccination of mice with MVA-HKenv precluded the formation of RLZ-HKenv tumor nodules, whereas wild-type MVA-vaccinated animals succumbed to metastasis. Protection from tumor formation correlated with enhanced HERV-K ENV-specific killing activity of splenocytes. These data demonstrate for the first time that HERV-K ENV is a useful target for vaccine development and might offer new treatment opportunities for diverse types of cancer.
    Full-text · Article · Aug 2013 · PLoS ONE
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