Defining the antiviral efficacy of CD8 T cells is important for immunogen design, and yet most current assays do not measure the ability of responses to neutralize infectious virus. Here we show that human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) clones and cell lines derived from infected persons and targeting diverse epitopes differ by over 1,000-fold in their ability to retard infectious virus replication in autologous CD4 T cells during a 7-day period in vitro, despite comparable activity as assessed by gamma interferon (IFN-γ) enzyme-linked immunospot (ELISPOT) assay. Cell lines derived from peripheral blood mononuclear cells stimulated in vitro with peptides representing targeted Gag epitopes consistently neutralized HIV better than Env-specific lines from the same person, although ineffective inhibition of virus replication is not a universal characteristic of Env-specific responses at the clonal level. Gag-specific cell lines were of higher avidity than Env-specific lines, although avidity did not correlate with the ability of Gag- or Env-specific lines to contain HIV replication. The greatest inhibition was observed with cell lines restricted by the protective HLA alleles B*27 and B*57, but stimulation with targeted Gag epitopes resulted in greater inhibition than did stimulation with targeted Env epitopes even in non-B*27/B*57 subjects. These results assessing functional virus neutralization by HIV-specific CD8 T cells indicate that there are marked epitope- and allele-specific differences in virus neutralization by in vitro-expanded CD8 T cells, a finding not revealed by standard IFN-γ ELISPOT assay currently in use in vaccine trials, which may be of critical importance in immunogen design and testing of candidate AIDS vaccines
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