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Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) are thought to play a major role in the immune response to HIV infection. The HIV-specific CTL response is much stronger than previously documented in an infectious disease, yet estimates of CTL frequency derived from limiting-dilution analysis (LDA) are relatively low and comparable to other viral infections. Here we show that individual CTL clones specific for peptides from HIV gag and pol gene products are present at high levels in the peripheral blood of three infected patients and that individual CTL clones may represent between 0.2% and 1% of T cells. Previous LDA in one donor had shown a frequency of CTL precursors of 1/8000, suggesting that LDA may underestimate CTL effector frequency. In some donors individual CTL clones persisted in vivo for at least 5 years. In contrast, in one patient there was a switch in CTL usage suggesting that different populations of CTLs can be recruited during infection. These data imply strong stimulation of CTLs, potentially leading some clones to exhaustion.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Publication Date





5773 - 5777


Amino Acid Sequence, Base Sequence, Clone Cells, DNA Primers, Gene Products, gag, Gene Products, pol, Genes, gag, Genes, pol, HIV, HIV Infections, Hemophilia A, Humans, Molecular Sequence Data, Polymerase Chain Reaction, Receptor-CD3 Complex, Antigen, T-Cell, Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta, T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic, Transcription, Genetic