HIV-1 frequently escapes from CD8 T cell responses via HLA-I restricted adaptation, leading to the accumulation of adapted epitopes (AE). We previously demonstrated that AE compromise CD8 T cell responses during acute infection and are associated with poor clinical outcomes. Here, we examined the impact of AE on CD8 T cell responses and their biological relevance in chronic HIV infection (CHI). In contrast to acute infection, the majority of AE are immunogenic in CHI. Longitudinal analyses from acute to CHI showed an increased frequency and magnitude of AE-specific IFN? responses compared to NAE-specific ones. These AE-specific CD8 T cells also were more cytotoxic to CD4 T cells. In addition, AE-specific CD8 T cells expressed lower levels of PD1 and CD57, as well as higher levels of CD28, suggesting a more activated and less exhausted phenotype. During CHI, viral sequencing identified AE-encoding strains as the dominant quasispecies. Despite increased CD4 T cell cytotoxicity, CD8 T cells responding to AE promoted dendritic cell (DC) maturation and CD4 T cell trans-infection perhaps explaining why AE are predominant in CHI. Taken together, our data suggests that the emergence of AE-specific CD8 T cell responses in CHI confers a selective advantage to the virus by promoting DC-mediated CD4 T cell trans-infection.
Journal: PLoS pathogens