Untreated human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections usually lead to death from AIDS, although the rate of the disease progression varies widely among individuals. The cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) response, which is restricted by highly polymorphic MHC class I alleles, plays a central role in controlling HIV replication. It is now recognized that the antiviral efficacy of CTLs at the single cell level is dependent on their antigen specificity and is important in determining the quality of host response to viruses so that the individual will remain asymptomatic. However, because of the extreme mutational plasticity of HIV, HIV-specific CTL responses are continuously and dynamically changing. In order to rationally design an effective vaccine, the questions as to what constitutes an effective antiviral CTL response and what characterizes a potent antigenic peptide to induce such responses are becoming highlighted as needing to be answered.
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