Following infection by HIV or SIV, reverse transcriptase (RT) directs the conversion of the single-stranded RNA genome into a double-stranded DNA molecule that integrates into the host cell genome. RT encodes for several immunogenic epitopes that are desirable for inclusion in a human vaccine for HIV infection, however, issues of safety have dampened enthusiasm for inclusion of an enzymatically-active RT molecule into an AIDS vaccine. In this study, virallyregulated, replication-incompetent lentiviral particles were expressed from DNA plasmids. The sequences for integrase, Vpr, Vif, Nef, and the long terminal repeats (LTRs) were deleted and mutations were engineered into capsid to decreases RNA packaging. Virus-like particles incorporated no RT (HIV-VLP RT or SHIV-VLP RT) or contained a full-length enzymatically-inactivated RT molecule (HIV-VLP or SHIV-VLP). Each secreted VLP was enveloped with a lipid bilayer derived from primate cells with embedded, native viral envelopes in similar concentrations as infectious virions. BALB/c mice were vaccinated (weeks 0, 3, and 6) with purified VLPs via intranasal inoculation in the presence of cytosinephosphate- guanosine oligodeoxynucleotides (CpG ODNs). All VLPs, with or without RT, elicited both robust humoral and cellular immune responses to Gag, Pol, and Env antigens. Therefore, the lack of RT enhances the safety of these VLPs for use in future human clinical trials without a significant reduction in the overall immunogenicity of these VLP immunogens.
Keywords: Virus-like particles, HIV-1, SHIV, reverse transcriptase, vaccine