DNA vaccines require a considerable enhancement of immunogenicity. Here, we optimized a prototype DNA vaccine against drug-resistant HIV-1 based on a weak Th2-immunogen, HIV-1 reverse transcriptase (RT). We designed expression-optimized genes encoding inactivated wild-Type and drug-resistant RTs (RT-DNAs) and introduced them into mice by intradermal injections followed by electroporation. RT-DNAs were administered as single or double primes with or without cyclic-di-GMP, or as a prime followed by boost with RT-DNA mixed with a luciferase-encoding plasmid ("surrogate challenge"). Repeated primes improved cellular responses and broadened epitope specificity. Addition of cyclic-di-GMP induced a transient increase in IFN-γ production. The strongest anti-RT immune response was achieved in a prime-boost protocol with electroporation by short 100V pulses done using penetrating electrodes. The RT-specific response, dominated by CD4+ T-cells, targeted epitopes at aa 199-220 and aa 528-543. Drug-resistance mutations disrupted the epitope at aa 205-220, while the CTL epitope at aa 202-210 was not affected. Overall, multiparametric optimization of RT strengthened its Th2-performance. A rapid loss of RT/luciferase-expressing cells in the surrogate challenge experiment revealed a lytic potential of anti-RT response. Such lytic CD4+ response would be beneficial for an HIV vaccine due to its comparative insensitivity to immune escape.
Field of Science*
- 3.2 Clinical medicine
- 1.1. Scientific article indexed in Web of Science and/or Scopus database