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Strong competition between cytotoxic T-lymphocytes (CTLs) specific for different epitopes in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection would have important implications for the design of an HIV vaccine. To investigate evidence for this type of competition, we analysed CTL response data from 97 patients with chronic HIV infection who were frequently sampled for up to 96 weeks. For each sample, CTL responses directed against a range of known epitopes in gag, pol and nef were measured using an enzyme-linked immunospot assay. The Lotka-Volterra model of competition was used to predict patterns that would be expected from these data if competitive interactions materially affect CTL numbers. In this application, the model predicts that when hosts make responses to a larger number of epitopes, they would have diminished responses to each epitope and that if one epitope-specific response becomes dramatically smaller, others would increase in size to compensate; conversely if one response grows, others would shrink. Analysis of the experimental data reveals results that are wholly inconsistent with these predictions. In hosts who respond to more epitopes, the average epitope-specific response tends to be larger, not smaller. Furthermore, responses to different epitopes almost always increase in unison or decrease in unison. Our findings are therefore inconsistent with the hypothesis that there is competition between CTL responses directed against different epitopes in HIV infection. This suggests that vaccines that elicit broad responses would be favourable because they would direct a larger total response against the virus, in addition to being more robust to the effects of CTL escape.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Biol Sci

Publication Date





4389 - 4397


Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte, HIV Infections, HIV-1, Humans, Immunoenzyme Techniques, Models, Theoretical, Switzerland, T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic