Despite repeated high-risk exposure to infectious HIV-1, some individuals remain HIV-1 seronegative and apparently uninfected. The use of nonhuman primate model systems to study SIVmac transmission may help to elucidate the factors responsible for protection in exposed, seronegative (ESN) humans. In an earlier vaccination study, three control rhesus macaques that were exposed to three sequential intravaginal challenges with pathogenic SIVmac251 failed to show evidence of infection after 5 years of observation. 51Cr release assay results suggested that these animals had low-level cytotoxic T lymphocyte responses to SIVmac proteins. We hypothesized that these responses might be an important component of protection from mucosal challenge. We performed an additional intravaginal challenge of all three macaques and monitored SIV-specific T cell responses in peripheral blood, using the sensitive enzyme-linked immunospot (ELISpot) assay. After the fourth challenge, one animal became infected; this animal did not mount a strong SIV-specific T cell response. Two other macaques remained uninfected as determined by peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) coculture, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and branched DNA (bDNA) analysis of peripheral blood and lymphoid tissues, but demonstrated boosting of SIV-specific T cell responses after challenge. These results support a protective role for SIVmac-specific T cells in repeatedly exposed, persistently seronegative rhesus macaques.
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