HIV subtype C diversity: analysis of the relationship of sequence diversity to proposed epitope locations
Ernstoff, Elana Ann
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Southern Africa is facing one of the most serious HIV epidemics. This project contributes to the HIVNET, Network for Prevention Trials cohort for vaccine development. HIVÂ’s biology and rapid mutation rate have made vaccine design difficult. We examined HIV-1 subtype C diversity and how it relates to CTL epitope location along viral gag sequences. We found a negative correlation between codon sites under positive selection and epitope regions; suggesting epitope regions are evolutionarily conserved. It is possible that epitopes exist in non-conserved regions, yet fail to be detected due to the reference strain diverging from the circulating viral population. To test if CTL clustering is an artifact of the reference strain, we calculated differences between the gag codons and the reference strain. We found a weak negative correlation, suggesting epitopes in less conserved regions maybe evading detection. Locating conserved and optimal epitopes that can be recognized by CTLs is essential for the design of vaccine reagents.