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Although cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) in people infected with human immunodeficiency virus type 1 can potentially target multiple virus epitopes, the same few are recognized repeatedly. We show here that CTL immunodominance in regions of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 group-associated antigen proteins p17 and p24 correlated with epitope abundance, which was strongly influenced by proteasomal digestion profiles, affinity for the transporter protein TAP, and trimming mediated by the endoplasmatic reticulum aminopeptidase ERAAP, and was moderately influenced by HLA affinity. Structural and functional analyses demonstrated that proteasomal cleavage 'preferences' modulated the number and length of epitope-containing peptides, thereby affecting the response avidity and clonality of T cells. Cleavage patterns were affected by both flanking and intraepitope CTL-escape mutations. Our analyses show that antigen processing shapes CTL response hierarchies and that viral evolution modifies cleavage patterns and suggest strategies for in vitro vaccine optimization.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Immunol

Publication Date





636 - 646


ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters, Amino Acid Sequence, Antigen Presentation, Evolution, Molecular, HIV Antigens, HIV Core Protein p24, HIV Infections, HIV-1, HLA-A Antigens, Humans, Immunodominant Epitopes, Leucyl Aminopeptidase, Major Histocompatibility Complex, Models, Molecular, Molecular Sequence Data, Mutation, Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex, Protein Binding, T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic, gag Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus