A safe, replication-defective viral vector that can induce mucosal and systemic immune responses and confer protection against many infectious pathogens, such as human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1), may be an ideal vaccine platform. Accordingly, we have generated and tested alphavirus replicon particles encoding HIV-1 Gag from Sindbis virus (SIN-Gag) and Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEE-Gag), as well as chimeras between the two (VEE/SIN-Gag). Following intramuscular (i.m.), intranasal (i.n.), or intravaginal (IVAG) immunization with VEE/SIN-Gag and an IVAG challenge with vaccinia virus encoding HIV Gag (VV-Gag), a larger number of Gag-specific CD8+ intracellular gamma interferon-expressing cells (iIFNEC) were detected in iliac lymph nodes (ILN), which drain the vaginal/uterine mucosa (VUM), than were observed after immunizations with SIN-Gag. Moreover, a single i.n. or IVAG immunization with VEE/SIN-Gag induced a larger number of cells expressing HIV Gag in ILN, and immunizations with VEE/SIN-Gag through any route induced better protective responses than immunizations with SIN-Gag. In VUM, a larger percentage of iIFNEC expressed α4β7 or αEβ7 integrin than expressed CD62L integrin. However, in spleens (SP), a larger percentage of iIFNEC expressed α4β7 or CD62L than expressed αEβ7. Moreover, a larger percentage of iIFNEC expressed the chemokine receptor CCR5 in VUM and ILN than in SP. These results demonstrate a better induction of cellular and protective responses following immunizations with VEE/SIN-Gag than that following immunizations with SIN-Gag and also indicate a differential expression of homing and chemokine receptors on iIFNEC in mucosal effector and inductive sites versus systemic lymphoid tissues.
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