In this study, we have investigated the influence of antigen targeting after DNA vaccination upon the induction of cellular immune responses against human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) Gag. In addition to the standard version of HIV-1 Gag, we constructed Gag expression vectors that encode a secreted (Sc-Gag) and a cytoplasmic (Cy-Gag) Gag molecule. Although all three HIV-1 Gag expression vectors induced detectable humoral and cellular immune responses, after intramuscular injection the DNA vector encoding the Sc-Gag generated the highest primary cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) and T-helper responses. Mice immunized with one of the HIV-1 Gag DNA vectors (but not with the control vector pcDNA3.1) developed a protective immune response against infection with recombinant vaccinia virus expressing HIV-1 Gag, and this response persisted for 125 days. The magnitude of the protection correlated with the levels of Gag-specific ex vivo CTL activity and the number of CD8+ T cells producing gamma interferon. The DNA vector encoding the Sc-Gag induced higher levels of protection and greater secondary CTL responses than did the DNA vector encoding Cy-Gag.
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