Deletion of the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) nef gene leads to an attenuated virus phenotype in vivo. We have previously shown that these viruses induce a potent cellular immune response in macaques. To extend these studies, we established virus-specific short-term T-cell lines from four rhesus macaques infected with a nef deletion mutant of SIV. These T-cell lines proliferated upon restimulation with whole SIV or SIV gp140 antigen in vitro. The proliferating cells were characterized as CD4+ helper T-cells (TH) and their antigen recognition was MHC class II DR-restricted. After antigenic stimulation, they transcribed mRNA for various TH1- and TH2-like cytokines. Using these SIV-specific cell lines, a variety of helper T-cell epitopes in the SIV Env protein were determined with overlapping peptides. TH epitopes were identified throughout the whole SIV Env including both constant and variable regions. Although the recognition of TH epitopes was heterogeneous among different animals, five more broadly reactive T-cell epitopes were identified. As expected, recognition was associated with the MHC class II DRB background of the animals. This is the first report on helper T-cell epitopes in SIV-infected monkeys. Such studies should be of considerable significance for AIDS/ vaccine research.


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