Objective: The evolution of HIV-1 is largely shaped by the cytotoxic T-cell (CTL) response of the host as encoded by the human leucocyte antigen (HLA) genes. Certain HLA-B alleles can delay disease progression, but it is uncertain whether this protection will sustain or whether the virus is in the process of adaptation. In The Netherlands, HLA-B27 is moderately prevalent (approximately 8–16% of HLA-B alleles). If adaptation to HLA-B alleles is in progress, virus strains carrying escape mutations to HLA-B27 should appear in the epidemic by now.
Design: A subtype B HIV-1 strain carrying a HLA-B27 CTL-escape mutation in the main Gag-p24 KK10 epitope, R264G, together with a compensatory mutation outside this epitope, E260D, was detected in four patients from Amsterdam, The Netherlands, by sequence analysis of the gag gene. The patients were a drug user and three men who have sex with men, and were infected with HIV-1 between 2002 and 2008.
Methods: Characterization and evolutionary analysis of the HIV-1 CTL-escape strain was done by sequence analysis of serial blood plasma samples.
Results: The mutations involved were stable during follow-up and after transmission, also in two individuals lacking HLA-B27.
Conclusion: The finding that a stable HLA-B27 CTL-escape strain is circulating in The Netherlands has important implications for the understanding of virus–host interactions and vaccine design alike. Vaccines targeted at inducing a CTL response might easily be circumvented by the virus. Also, patients carrying protective HLA alleles might not be protected anymore from disease progression in the future.
aLaboratory of Experimental Virology, Center for Infection and Immunity Amsterdam (CINIMA), The Netherlands
bLaboratory of Clinical Virology, Department of Medical Microbiology, Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
cDepartment of Internal Medicine, Onze Lieve Vrouwe Gasthuis, The Netherlands
dCluster Infectious Diseases, Health Service of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Received 6 February, 2009
Revised 23 April, 2009
Accepted 30 April, 2009
Correspondence to Antoinette C. van der Kuyl, Laboratory of Experimental Virology, Department of Medical Microbiology, Centre of Infection and Immunity Amsterdam (CINIMA), Academic Medical Centre of the University of Amsterdam, Meibergdreef 15, 1105 AZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Tel: +31 20 5666778; fax: +31 20 5669064; e-mail: email@example.com