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  • Journal of Virological Methods 99 (2002) 115121

    Construction and characterisation of infectious recombinantHIV-1 clones containing CTL epitopes from structural

    proteins in Nef

    Christophe Guillon a,1, Carel A. van Baalen a, Patrick H.M. Boers a,Esther J. Verschuren a, Rob A. Gruters a,b, Albert D.M.E. Osterhaus a,*a Department of Virology, Erasmus Medical Center Rotterdam, PO Box 1738, 3000 DR Rotterdam, The Netherlands

    b UMR 2142 CNRS/bioMerieux, ENS Lyon, Lyon, France

    Received 25 June 2001; received in revised form 16 August 2001; accepted 16 August 2001

    Abstract

    In this study the construction is described of HIV-1 molecular clones in which CTL epitopes from RT or Env lateproteins were inserted into the Nef early protein. The ectopic epitopes were efficiently processed from the recombinantNef proteins, were recognized by their cognate CTL in cytolytic assays, and did not perturb virus replication or viralprotein expression in vitro. These recombinant viruses will therefore be an important tool in studying the effect ofdistinct epitope expression kinetics on the efficiency of CTL-mediated suppression of HIV-1 replication. 2002Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

    Keywords: HIV-1; Recombination; CTL; Epitopes

    www.elsevier.com/locate/jviromet

    HIV is a lentivirus for which protein expressionis strictly regulated during the replication cycle(for a review, see Cullen, 1992). After entry intothe target cell, the viral proteins Tat, Rev and Nefare the first to be expressed. The regulatoryproteins Tat and Rev are crucial for viral replica-tion, via enhancement of transcription and regula-tion of HIV-1 mRNA export to the cytoplasm

    (Cullen, 1992; Jeang et al., 1999; Pollard andMalim, 1998). The accessory genes encoding Vpu,Vif and Vpr are expressed next, together with EnvGag and Pol are the last proteins to becomedetectable, after which assembly of viral particlesbegins (Feinberg et al., 1986; Kim et al., 1989).

    Infection with HIV leads to a chronic infectionand although the virus cannot be cleared, immu-nity plays a role in suppressing the virus spread.Recent reports have shown that an efficient im-mune response against the regulatory proteinscorrelates with the control of primary viremia(Allen et al., 2000) and chronic infection (Gerettiet al., 1999) in SIV-infected monkeys, and with a

    * Corresponding author. Tel.: +31-10-408-8066; fax: +31-10-408-9485.

    E-mail address: osterhaus@viro.fgg.eur.nl (A.D.M.E. Oster-haus).

    1 Present address: UMR 2142 CNRS/bioMerieux, ENSLyon, Lyon, France.

    0166-0934/02/$ - see front matter 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

    PII: S0166-0934(01)00389-5

  • C. Guillon et al. / Journal of Virological Methods 99 (2002) 115121116

    better prognosis for HIV-1 infected individuals(van Baalen et al., 1997; Zagury et al., 1998). Thisis substantiated further by a recent study, whichshowed no significant differences between the con-trol of viremia in infected individuals and thepresence of CTL responses against Tat and Rev,but demonstrated that the breadth of the CTLresponse against Tat correlates with an efficientcontrol of disease progression (Addo et al., 2001).To test whether the early expression of Tat andRev contributes to the more effective control ofHIV/SIV viremia it was decided to manipulate theexpression kinetics of CTL epitopes. Deletion,insertion or mutation in the tat and re genes isproblematic, because the open reading frames(ORFs) partially overlap with each other and withen (Myers et al., 1998). In contrast, the earlyexpressed nef gene does not overlap with otherORFs (Myers et al., 1998). Moreover, althoughNef-deleted HIV-1 variants display a lower patho-genicity in vivo, they are replication-competent invitro (Harris, 1996), which makes the nef gene amore suitable candidate for genetic modifications.

    The construction of full length, infectious HIV-1 molecular clones is described, in which CTLepitopes from the late HIV-1 proteins RT andEnv have been inserted in frame into the nefORF. The molecular clone pACH320.2A.2.1(HIV-12.1WT), which has been described previously(Groenink et al., 1991; Guillon et al., 1995), wassubcloned in two halves named pXE2.1 andpEX2.1, respectively (Guillon et al., 1997). DNAwas amplified using Escherichia coli STBL2(Gibco-BRL), grown at 30 C to avoid recombi-nation (Joshi and Jeang, 1993), and purified oncesium chloride gradients using standard methods(Sambrook et al., 1989). We inserted ectopic epi-topes in the unique Bpu1102I site (position 6773in the nef gene), which was located close to anatural CTL epitope of Nef, providing a fa-vourable context for antigen processing (Korberet al., 1999). pEX2.1 subclones were digested withBpu1102I (MBI Fermentas), dephosphorylatedusing Calf Intestine Phosphatase (BoehringerMannheim), and purified on agarose gels (DNAextraction kit, BoehringerMannheim). The nu-cleotide sequences encoding the Env589597(ERYLKDQQL) and RT244252 (IVLPEKDSW)

    CTL epitopes, which are recognised in the contextof HLA-B14 and -B57, respectively (Johnson etal., 1992; Klein et al., 1998), were generated byannealing complementary oligonucleotides (Fig.1A). These sequences were ligated into pEX2.1 tocreate pEX2.1EN and pEX2.1RN, respectively.Clones were sequenced to confirm the correctpresence of the epitopes. To generate thepEX2.1NM constructs, subclones were digestedwith Xho I (position 101106 in the nef gene) andincubated with Kleenow DNA polymerase (NewEngland Biolabs) in the presence of 30 mMdNTPs. This resulted in a frame shift after aminoacid 35 and a truncated Nef protein of 56 aminoacids (Fig. 1C). pEX2.1EN, pEX2.1RN andpEX2.1-NM were cloned back into full-lengthpACH320.2A.2.1 (Fig. 1B) and transfected into293-T cells for the production of infectious HIV-12.1EN, HIV-12.1RN, HIV-12.1NM and HIV-12.1WTstocks, as described previously (Pear et al., 1993).

    The replication characteristics of these recombi-nant viruses were evaluated using TCL2H7 cells, anon-transformed CD4+ T cell line supportingreplication of primary HIV isolates and present-ing HLA B14- and B57-restricted epitopes (vanBaalen et al., 1998). The cells require re-stimula-tion every 14 days using PHA-L (1 g/ml) andgamma-irradiated feeder cells, and susceptibilityto HIV infection was optimal at day 3 afterstimulation (van Baalen et al., 1998). Therefore,virus replication could be monitored for 10 days,without the need for re-stimulation or addingfreshly stimulated cells. Cells were incubated with2-, 20- and 200-fold dilutions of the transfectionsupernatants for 90 min, and washed subse-quently twice to remove unbound virions. Cul-tures were initiated with 3105 cells, and virusproduction in the supernatant was measured usinga double sandwich p24 ELISA (Cheynet et al.,1993; Guillon et al., 1997). In parallel, 5-folddilutions of the cells inoculated with the highestvirus concentration were cultured in quadrupli-cate with uninfected TCL2H7 cells for 2 weeks,and the number of positive wells for each of thecell dilutions was used to estimate the initial frac-tion of infected cells. At the start, cultures in-fected with HIV-12.1WT, HIV-12.1EN, HIV-12.1RN orHIV-12.1NM contained a number of infected cells

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    Fig. 1. Generation of the artificial epitopes. (A) Description of the oligonucleotides depicted as annealing product. The DNA strands coding for the epitopes are shownin bold. (B) Recombinant full-length HIV-1 molecular clones generated in this study. The ectopic epitopes are depicted as grey and striped areas at their respectivenatural position and in the recombinant nef gene for the p2.1EN and p2.1RN constructs. (C) Aminoacid sequence of the p2.1NM Nef protein. Residues in italic arethe result of the frameshift in the nef ORF.

  • C. Guillon et al. / Journal of Virological Methods 99 (2002) 115121118

    proportional to 418, 187, 17 and 125 ID50 per3105 cells, respectively. As shown in Fig. 2, theinsertions into or truncation of Nef did not affectin vitro replication kinetics in TCL2H7 cells. Atthe peak of virus production, p24 concentrationsin the supernatant were similar for all infections,between 500 and 1000 ng/ml. Similar results wereobserved when viruses were used to infect PHA-stimulated PBMCs (data not shown). The insertsand the truncation were stable, since the nef genesof virus isolated at the end of the observationperiod were identical to the nef genes of the inputvirus (data not shown). The differences in growthkinetics correlated with the differences in the esti-mated initial fraction of infected cells. Tenfolddilutions of the inoculum resulted in a 12-daydelay in peak virus production, as was shownpreviously by Dimitrov et al. (1993).

    Infected cells were lysed at the peak of p24replication to assess Nef and Gag expression fromthe recombinant viruses by Western blot usingNef-specific monoclonal antibodies EVA3068.1and EVA3067.5 clone 3A2 (Ovod et al., 1992) orwith p24-specific antibody 14D4E11 (Janvier etal., 1990). As shown in Fig. 3, upper panel, Nefexpression was detected in HIV-12.1EN and HIV-12.1RN infected cells. Nef proteins containing theectopic epitopes (Fig. 3, lanes 2 and 3) showed aslightly higher apparent molecular weight than thewild-type Nef (Fig. 3, lane 1), but all proteins had

    a molecular weight around the expected size of 32kD. Thus, the insertion of Env- or RT-specificepitopes in the nef ORF of the full-lengthACH320.2A.2.1 molecular clone did not perturbviral replication or Nef expression. Nef could notbe detected in cells infected with the Nef-trun-cated HIV-12.1NM virus (Fig. 3, lane 4), but Gagproteins were detected by Western blots on thesame lysate (Fig. 3, lower panel), indicating thatviral proteins were expressed normally, despi