CD8+ T cells in HIV control, cure and prevention


HIV infection can be effectively treated by lifelong administration of combination antiretroviral therapy, but an effective vaccine will likely be required to end the HIV epidemic. Although the majority of current vaccine strategies focus on the induction of neutralizing antibodies, there is substantial evidence that cellular immunity mediated by CD8+ T cells can sustain long-term disease-free and transmission-free HIV control and may be harnessed to induce both therapeutic and preventive antiviral effects. In this Review, we discuss the increasing evidence derived from individuals who spontaneously control infection without antiretroviral therapy as well as preclinical immunization studies that provide a clear rationale for renewed efforts to develop a CD8+ T cell-based HIV vaccine in conjunction with B cell vaccine efforts. Further, we outline the remaining challenges in translating these findings into viable HIV prevention, treatment and cure strategies.

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Fig. 1: Ex vivo CD8+ T cell function and phenotype are modulated by the magnitude and duration of in vivo HIV antigen exposure.
Fig. 2: CD8+ T cell function and specificity differentiate HIV controllers and progressors.
Fig. 3: HIV-specific CD8+ T cell responses in natural infection as well as following therapeutic and preventive vaccination.


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We are grateful to the participants of all cited studies. We apologize to the many authors whose work was not cited in this review owing to space limitations. This work was supported by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant UM1AI100663 and R37AI067073.

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All listed authors contributed to the writing, editing and preparation of this review article.

Correspondence to Bruce D. Walker.

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Competing interests

G.D.G. and B.D.W. have filed a provisional patent application (62/817,094) related to HIV vaccine design. D.R.C. declares no competing interests.

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Nature Reviews Immunology thanks P. Goulder, S. Lewin and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Collins, D.R., Gaiha, G.D. & Walker, B.D. CD8+ T cells in HIV control, cure and prevention. Nat Rev Immunol (2020).

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