HIV-1 Immune Evasion Mutations Could Impact Future Vaccine Efficacy

Dr. Morgane Rolland outlines implications in Nature Medicine commentary

In a commentary published this week in Nature Medicine, MHRP scientist Dr. Morgane Rolland advises that future HIV vaccine development strategies should take into account new evidence that certain HIV-1 mutations that facilitate virus escape from immune recognition can contribute to poor disease outcomes.

Human leukocyte antigens (HLAs) are genetically inherited proteins present on the surface of human cells that help the host immune system recognize infected cells and target them for destruction. Genetic make-up of an individual's HLA is known to affect the rate of HIV disease progression.

In her commentary, Dr. Rolland responds to a new study that assesses how HIV’s adaptation to host HLA can lead to deteriorated immune responses. Since certain HIV strains are already adapted to slip through “holes” in host immune response, this raises questions about whether those evasion mutations put a person who contracts the adapted virus at an immunological disadvantage. 

Findings from this study by Carlson and colleagues, published in the same issue of Nature Medicine, could have implications for vaccine development.

“Vaccine-induced elimination of circulating HIV-1 strains would echo the absence patterns of the anti-HIV immune response,” explains Dr. Rolland. “That might lead to a decrease in vaccine efficacy over time.”

Dr. Rolland’s commentary puts forth that one strategy that could help avoid this problem would be to develop vaccines that raise immune responses to immutable segments of the HIV genome. One such approach would be the the ‘Conserved Element’ vaccine design proposed by Drs. Rolland and Mullins in 2007. At the least, the recent findings “offer an argument for continued monitoring of HIV-1 evolution dynamics.”