Convincing data on experimental vaccines against AIDS have been obtained in the simian immuno-deficiency virus (SIV) macaque model by preinfection with a virus attenuated by a deletion. To investigate the efficacy of a deletion mutant of SIVmac32H called pC8 as a live-attenuated vaccine after shorter preinfection periods and to learn more about the nature of the immune protection induced, eight rhesus monkeys were infected intravenously with the pC8 virus. All monkeys became persistently infected, exhibiting low cell-associated viral loads, but strong cellular and, in terms of binding antibodies, strong humoral antiviral responses. Two of eight pC8-infected monkeys developed an immuno-deficiency and were not challenged. Sequence analysis of their revealed complete replenishment of the deletion. The other six monkeys, two preinfected for 42 weeks and four for 22 weeks, were challenged with pathogenic spleen-derived SIV. Complete protection was achieved in four vaccinees. Virus was consistently detected in two vaccinees from the 22-week-group challenge, however, they remained clinically healthy over a prolonged period. Protection from challenge virus infection or a delayed disease development seemed to be associated with a sustained SIV-specific T helper cell response after challenge. Thus, a sterilizing immunity against superinfection with pathogenic SIV can be induced even after a relatively short waiting period of 22 weeks. Nevertheless, such a vaccine raises severe safety concerns because of its potential to revert to virulence.


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