A recombinant herpesviral vector containing a near-full-length SIVmac239 genome produces SIV particles and elicits immune responses to all nine SIV gene products
The properties of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) pose serious difficulties for the development of an effective prophylactic vaccine. Here we describe the construction and characterization of recombinant (r), replication-competent forms of rhesus monkey rhadinovirus (RRV), a gamma-2 herpesvirus, containing a near-full-length (nfl) genome of the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV). A 306-nucleotide deletion in the pol gene rendered this nfl genome replication-incompetent as a consequence of deletion of the active site of the essential reverse transcriptase enzyme. Three variations were constructed to drive expression of the SIV proteins: one with SIV’s own promoter region, one with a cytomegalovirus (cmv) immediate-early promoter/enhancer region, and one with an RRV dual promoter (p26 plus PAN). Following infection of rhesus fibroblasts in culture with these rRRV vectors, synthesis of the early protein Nef and the late structural proteins Gag and Env could be demonstrated. Expression levels of the SIV proteins were highest with the rRRV-SIVcmv-nfl construct. Electron microscopic examination of rhesus fibroblasts infected with rRRV-SIVcmv-nfl revealed numerous budding and mature SIV particles and these infected cells released impressive levels of p27 Gag protein (>150 ng/ml) into the cell-free supernatant. The released SIV particles were shown to be incompetent for replication. Monkeys inoculated with rRRV-SIVcmv-nfl became persistently infected, made readily-detectable antibodies against SIV, and developed T-cell responses against all nine SIV gene products. Thus, rRRV expressing a near-full-length SIV genome mimics live-attenuated strains of SIV in several important respects: the infection is persistent; >95% of the SIV proteome is naturally expressed; SIV particles are formed; and CD8+ T-cell responses are maintained indefinitely in an effector-differentiated state. Although the magnitude of anti-SIV immune responses in monkeys infected with rRRV-SIVcmv-nfl falls short of what is seen with live-attenuated SIV infection, further experimentation seems warranted.