HIV-1-specific CTL has a crucial role in the elimination of the virus. However, a restricted number of common HLA class I alleles has been studied for their presentation of HIV-1 CTL epitopes. We have attempted to identify HIV-1 CTL epitopes presented by HLA-A*2402 using reverse immunogenetics. Fifty-three HLA-A*2402-binding HIV-1 peptides were used to induce specific CTL in PBL of four HIV-1-infected individuals carrying HLA-A24. Twelve peptides were strongly suggested to be HLA-A*2402-restricted HIV-1 CTL epitopes because these peptides induced the specific CTL that killed both the target cells pulsed with the specific peptides and those infected with the vaccinia HIV-1 recombinant virus in at least one HIV-1-infected individual. Of these epitopes, 11 were confirmed by the generation of the specific CTL clones. Six were the Env epitopes while three, one, and one were derived from Gag, Pol, and Nef proteins, respectively. Analysis of 12 HIV-1-infected individuals using these peptides showed that 5 derived from the Env protein and one from the Nef protein were strong epitopes. These strong epitopes were derived from the diverse region of HIV-1 while weak epitopes were conserved in the HIV-1 clade B strain. Analysis of CTL recognition of mutations in these strong epitopes suggested that the mutations in the Env epitopes may critically influence CTL recognition in vivo.

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