1 This is the authors final peered reviewed (post print) version of the item published as: Yang, Hongbing, Yorke, Elizabeth, Hancock, Gemma, Clutton, Genevieve, Sande, Nellia, Angus, Bryan, Smyth, Redmond, Mak, Johnson and Dorrell, Lucy 2013, Improved quantification of HIV 1 infected CD4 + T cells using an optimised method of intracellular HIV 1 gag p24 antigen detection, Journal of Immunological Methods, vol. 391, no. 1 2, pp Available from Deakin Research Online: Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright owner. Copyright : 2013, Elsevier
2 Improved quantification of HIV-1-infected CD4+ T cells using an optimised method of intracellular HIV-1 gag p24 antigen detection Hongbing Yang a, Elisabeth Yorke b, Gemma Hancock a, Genevieve Clutton b, Nellia Sande c, Brian Angus b, Redmond Smyth d, Johnson Mak e, Lucy Dorrell a,b,c a Oxford NIHR Biomedical Research Centre and b Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, Oxford OX3 9DS, UK c Oxford Genitourinary Medicine, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, Oxford OX3 7LJ, UK d Architecture et Réactivité de l'arn, Institut de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire, Université de Strasbourg, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Strasbourg, France e School of Medicine, Deakin University, Victoria, Australia 3216 Address for correspondence: Dr Lucy Dorrell, Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford OX3 9DS, UK. Tel:
3 Abstract The capacity of CD8+ T cells to inhibit HIV-1 replication in vitro strongly correlates with virus control in vivo. Post-hoc evaluations of HIV-1 vaccine candidates suggest that this immunological parameter is a promising benchmark of vaccine efficacy. Large-scale analysis of CD8+ T cell antiviral activity requires a rapid, robust and economical assay for accurate quantification of HIV-1 infection in primary CD4+ T cells. Detection of intracellular HIV-1 p24 antigen (p24 Ag) by flow cytometry is one such method but it is thought to be less sensitive and quantitative than p24 Ag ELISA. We report that fixation and permeabilisation of HIV-infected cells using paraformaldehyde / 50% methanol / Nonidet P-40 instead of a conventional paraformaldehyde / saponin-based protocol improved their detection across multiplicities of infection (MOI) ranging from x10-5, and by nearly two-fold (p <0.001) at the optimal MOI tested (10-2 ). The frequency of infected cells was strongly correlated with p24 Ag release during culture, thus validating its use as a measure of productive infection. We were also able to quantify infection with a panel of HIV-1 isolates representing the major clades. The protocol described here is rapid and costeffective compared with ELISA and thus could be a useful component of immune monitoring of HIV-1 vaccines and interventions to reduce viral reservoirs. Key words: HIV, CD4 T cell, flow cytometry, ELISA, gag, p24 Ag
4 1. Introduction Better understanding of the defining characteristics of effective immunity to HIV-1 is crucial to the development of effective vaccines and eradication strategies. CD8+ T cell-mediated viral inhibition in vitro provides a direct measure of immune control of HIV-1 in vivo and has therefore been evaluated as a possible benchmark of effective immunity in vaccine trial cohorts (Freel et al., 2010; Saez-Cirion et al., 2007; Spentzou et al., 2010; Yang et al., 2012). Analysis of CD8+ T cell antiviral activity requires accurate quantification of HIV-1 infection in primary CD4+ T cells. A widely used approach involves quantification by ELISA of viral gag p24 Ag released by infected cells during culture, with or without autologous CD8+ T cells, for up to 21 days (Fauce et al., 2007; Saez-Cirion et al., 2010; Spentzou et al., 2010). Alternatively, the frequency of infected cells can be assessed by flow cytometric analysis of intracellular p24 Ag. The reproducibility, sensitivity and dynamic range that can be achieved using p24 Ag ELISA supported the perception that it is superior to flow cytometry for analysis of patient cohorts (Saez-Cirion et al., 2010). However, the disadvantages of the ELISA-based approach (time and cost) led us to optimise the intracellular assay in order to facilitate rapid analysis of CD8+ T cell antiviral activity (Yang et al., 2012). Here, we show that the sensitivity of the intracellular p24 Ag assay is highly dependent on the method of fixation and permeabilisation.
5 2. Materials and Methods 2.1 Subjects Ethical approval was given by Mid & South Buckinghamshire Research Ethics Committee, UK (Ethics ref. 08/H0607/51). Each participant provided written informed consent. Chronic HIV-1 infected antiretroviral therapy-naive adults were recruited from clinics in Oxford, UK. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from healthy HIV-uninfected donors were obtained from buffy coats supplied by the National Health Service Blood Transfusion Service, Bristol, UK or from the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (University of Oxford) Licensed Tissue Bank, in compliance with the Human Tissue Act PBMC were stored in vapour phase liquid nitrogen until use. 2.2 Viruses HIV-1 isolates were obtained from the Programme EVA Centre for AIDS Reagents, National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC), a centre of the Health Protection Agency, UK. The laboratory-adapted CCR5-tropic clade B isolate BaL was used as a reference strain throughout all experiments. Other laboratoryadapted and primary isolates of various clades were used in selected experiments. These were HIV-1 IIIB (clade B, CXCR4-tropic), HIV-1 92UG029 (clade A, CCR5 / CXCR4 dual-tropic), HIV-1 RW93024 (clade A, CXCR-tropic), HIV-1 ES X-1936 (clade C, CCR5-tropic) and HIV-1 CRF_14 (BG recombinant, CCR5 / CXCR4 dualtropic) (Supplementary Table 1). All virus propagation was performed using primary CD4+ cells and 50% tissue culture infectious doses (TCID 50 ) for each virus was calculated as described previously (Koup et al., 2001). In selected experiments, NLAD8 EGFP IRES_Nef, which is an R5-tropic HIV-1 isolate that expresses EGFP
6 from the Nef open reading frame, was used to confirm productive infection. Viral stocks were prepared by transfection of 293T cells with polyethylenimine. After 36 hours, virus-containing supernatant was harvested, filtered and frozen at -80 o C. 2.3 Quantification of HIV-1-infected CD4+ T cells by intracellular p24 antigen staining Cryopreserved PBMC were thawed and depleted of CD8+ cells by magnetic bead separation (MACS, Milteny-Biotec). CD8-depleted cells (hereafter referred to as CD4+ cells) were stimulated with PHA (5μg/ml) in RPMI-1640 medium supplemented with 10% FCS ( R10 ) for 3 days, washed and infected with HIV-1 isolates at multiplicities of infection (MOI) ranging from as indicated in Supplementary Table 1. The selected MOI were those that yielded detectable infection in all wells when tested a TCID 50 assay without causing significant cell death (>20% lymphocytes Aqua Live/Dead-positive). In some experiments, HIV-1 BaL was tested over a wider range of MOI (Table 1). Infection was achieved by spinoculation for 2 hours at 25 o C, after which cells were washed twice and cultured in triplicate (5 x 10 4 cells / well) in R10 supplemented with IL-2 (20 IU/ml) for 5-11 days. Supernatants were collected and stored at -80 o C for p24 Ag ELISA. Cells were then harvested and stained first with Aqua Live/Dead Fixable stain (Invitrogen), fixed with 4% paraformaldehyde (PFA) / lysolecithin (20μg/ml) at RT, then resuspended in cold 50% methanol for 15 minutes. Further permeabilisation was achieved with 0.1% Nonidet P-40 and cells were then stained with antibodies to p24 Ag (KC-57-FITC, Beckman Coulter) followed by antibodies to CD3, CD4 and CD8 (conjugated to APC-Cy7, PerCP and APC respectively; BD Biosciences). In selected experiments, cells were permeabilised and stained as described elsewhere using proprietary fixation
7 and permeabilisation reagents (BD Biosciences) (Saez-Cirion et al., 2010). Samples were acquired on a CyAn flow cytometer and analysed using FlowJo (version 9.2). Compensation values never exceeded 40%. The frequency of infected CD4+ T cells was defined as the percentage of HIV-1 p24 Ag+ cells among live single CD3+ CD8- negative lymphocytes. Supernatant p24 Ag concentration was determined by ELISA (Cell Biolabs Inc.) according to the manufacturer s protocol. 2.4 Statistical analysis Statistical analysis was performed using GraphPad Prism software (version 4). Paired samples were analysed using a paired t test. Associations were examined by calculation of Pearson s correlation coefficient. All tests were two-tailed and P values <0.05 were considered significant.
8 3. Results 3.1 Optimisation of intracellular staining for HIV-1 p24 Ag to identify infected primary CD4+ T cells Optimal detection of p24 Ag in HIV-infected human cell lines and PBMC requires cell fixation with cold methanol at 90% v/v concentration; however, this is unsatisfactory for multi-parameter FACS analysis of primary human T cells as methanol concentrations >50% can interfere with the detection of CD3 on the cell surface (Chow et al., 2005; Cory et al., 1987). We therefore investigated the effect of treatment of HIV-1 BaL - infected primary CD4+ T cells with different methanol concentrations prior to antibody staining. The highest frequency of p24 Ag+ cells was observed after treatment with 75% methanol. However, this was associated with >0.5 log 10 reduction in CD3 expression, whereas 50% methanol did not substantially impair detection of either p24 Ag or CD3 (Fig. 1A, B). Conversely, 35% methanol had minimal effect on CD3 but reduced detection of p24 Ag+ cells by 24%. We then compared the treatment of HIV-1 BaL infected CD4+ T cells from 9 healthy donors with either 4% PFA / 50% methanol followed by Nonidet p40 ( 50% methanol perm ) or proprietary PFA / saponin ( BD perm ) as described previously, before addition of antibodies (Saez-Cirion et al., 2010). With both methods, non-specific staining with the p24 antibody was low, although higher with the BD perm method than with 50% methanol (0.21% vs. 0.17%). Significantly higher frequencies of infected CD4+ T cells (defined as p24+ cells to allow for nef-induced CD4 downregulation) were detected using 50% methanol perm (median 12.0%, range 4.6%-22.6%) than the BD perm method (median 7.2%; range 1.1%-16.3%, p = 0.001) (Fig. 1C).
9 It is possible that infected CD4+ T cells can express p24 Ag in the absence of productive infection since abundant protein is present on incoming virus (Marechal et al., 1998). To address this, we compared the frequencies of infected cells from 13 subjects with the concentration of p24 Ag released during a 5 day culture period. These parameters were highly correlated (r = 0.85, p = ) ( (Fig. 1D). In addition, to confirm productive infection by a direct method we used an EGFPexpressing R5-tropic HIV-1 isolate to infect CD4+ cells. GFP-positive cells were detected after a minimum of 18 hours of infection, consistent with expected viral replication kinetics, and were >97.5% positive by p24 Ag staining (Figure 1E). These data indicate that our intracellular staining protocol provides a robust measure of productive infection. 3.2 Relative sensitivities of optimised flow cytometric intracellular p24 assay and p24 ELISA A reported limitation of the flow cytometric assay is its poor sensitivity relative to ELISA. To investigate the lower limit of detection of p24 Ag+ cells in the BD permand methanol-based flow cytometric assays, we tested HIV-1 BaL at MOIs ranging from 1x x10-6. Corresponding supernatants were tested by ELISA. The BD-perm based assay yielded consistently lower p24 Ag+ cell frequencies than the methanolbased assay at MOIs of 1x x10-5, therefore, only the latter was compared with ELISA in an end-point assay (Table 1). Wells were scored positive in the methanolbased flow cytometric assay if the frequency of p24 Ag+ cells was >0.45%. (based on the mean + 3 SD of mock-infected CD4+ cells from 8 donors tested in triplicate). The cut-off for the p24 ELISA stated in the manufacturer s protocol was 1562 pg/ml. The methanol-based flow cytometric assay and ELISA scored positive in all wells at all
10 MOIs tested except the lowest (4x10-6 ). At this MOI, 1/3 wells were scored positive in the optimised flow cytometric assay; 3/3 wells were positive by ELISA (Table 1). 3.3 Intracellular p24 Ag staining reliably detects infection of primary CD4+ T cells with diverse HIV-1 isolates The HIV-1 clade B isolate, BaL was chosen for optimisation of the intracellular p24 Ag assay because, as an R5-tropic virus, it is representative of the majority of transmitted strains. To extend our initial findings we tested a panel of primary and laboratory-adapted viruses that represent the major clades and vary in their tropism, replicative capacity and cytopathicity in primary CD4+ cell cultures. The clade B laboratory-adapted isolates BaL and IIIB and the primary clade C isolate showed a plateau in viral replication 5-7 days after infection, while the primary clade A isolates plateaued as early as day 3. The BG recombinant virus infected a very high proportion of CD4+ T cells, resulting in rapid cell death (>50%), which made interpretation of the data unreliable (Fig. 2). At the peak of virus replication, frequencies of infected cells varied considerably across the panel, with median values ranging from 8.5% p24 Ag+ cells for HIV-1 BaL to 25.6% for the BG recombinant. In summary, our assay enabled quantification of infection with diverse virus isolates.
11 4. Discussion We have shown that the sensitivity of a flow cytometric assay to detect intracellular p24 Ag is significantly enhanced by use of a methanol-based staining protocol. While less sensitive than a commercially available ELISA in a limiting dilution assay using a stringent cut-off, the methanol-based flow cytometric assay could detect infection at MOIs as low as 4x10-6. Optimal infected cell frequencies were previously defined as 10-30% p24 Ag+ CD4+ T cells by intracellular staining on day 3 of infection, as this was considered necessary to achieve a p24 Ag concentration in the culture supernatant of ng/ml at the peak of viral replication (usually day 5-7 in the case of HIV- 1 BaL ) (Saez-Cirion et al., 2010). Here, we observed that p24 Ag concentrations exceeded 100 ng/ml after 5 days infection with HIV-1 BaL in >90% cases, despite wide inter-individual variation in frequencies of infected CD4+ T cells (5-23%), highlighting the efficiency of infection with HIV-1 BaL. While the flow cytometric assay has a smaller dynamic range than ELISA, which may limit its capacity to identify individuals with very potent CD8+ T cell function in viral inhibition assays, it nevertheless allows for real-time assessment of spresd of infection and cell viability. This is essential to correct interpretation of data, particularly when comparing different viral isolates that may vary in cytopathicity. ELISA is generally ideal for large-scale analyses, however, a major disadvantage is that the recommended kinetic approach requires several dilutions of culture supernatant per sample analysed; this requires judgement by the user and may vary between assays. This limits the number of individual patients samples that can be analysed in a single plate, with potentially substantial cost implications. The flow cytometric assay was calculated to be 25% of the cost of ELISA, based on the
12 analysis of duplicate ELISA samples at two dilutions for a single culture time-point (Supplementary Table 2). In addition, the flow cytometric assay is less timeconsuming (5 vs. 10 hours from cell / supernatant harvest to completion of acquisition of data by a single operator, as the ELISA protocol includes incubations of 4 hours or overnight with the p24 antibody). Automated sampling of 96 well plates could shorten the duration of the flow cytometric assay further still. When testing multiple virus isolates, it is also easy to adapt the flow cytometry assay according to the replication characteristics of the viral strains being studied. Although installation and maintenance of a flow cytometer is costly, this technology is employed widely in resource-limited settings for the purpose of analysing T cell responses in HIV-1 vaccine trials. In summary, the advantages of the flow cytometric assay described here support its inclusion as a component of immune monitoring in clinical trials of HIV-1 vaccine candidates. Finally, recent intriguing data suggest that latently HIV-infected CD4+ T cells can produce gag proteins without spreading infection (Pace et al., 2012). Accurate quantification of HIV-1 gag-expressing CD4+ T cells could complement other methods to evaluate eradication strategies targeting virus reservoirs.
13 Acknowledgements We are indebted to the patients for their participation in this study. We thank Professor Quentin Sattentau for helpful advice and for critical review of the manuscript. This work was funded by the Oxford NIHR Biomedical Research Centre, UK. EY received financial support from the Rhodes Trust. LD is a Jenner Investigator.
14 References Chow, S., Hedley, D., Grom, P., Magari, R., Jacobberger, J.W., and Shankey, T.V. (2005). Whole blood fixation and permeabilization protocol with red blood cell lysis for flow cytometry of intracellular phosphorylated epitopes in leukocyte subpopulations. Cytometry A 67, Cory, J.M., Ohlsson-Wilhelm, B.M., Brock, E.J., Sheaffer, N.A., Steck, M.E., Eyster, M.E., and Rapp, F. (1987). Detection of human immunodeficiency virus-infected lymphoid cells at low frequency by flow cytometry. J Immunol Methods 105, Fauce, S.R., Yang, O.O., and Effros, R.B. (2007). Autologous CD4/CD8 co-culture assay: a physiologically-relevant composite measure of CD8+ T lymphocyte function in HIV-infected persons. J Immunol Methods 327, Freel, S.A., Lamoreaux, L., Chattopadhyay, P.K., Saunders, K., Zarkowsky, D., Overman, R.G., Ochsenbauer, C., Edmonds, T.G., Kappes, J.C., Cunningham, C.K., et al. (2010). Phenotypic and functional profile of HIV-inhibitory CD8 T cells elicited by natural infection and heterologous prime/boost vaccination. J Virol 84, Koup, R.A., Ho, D.D., Poli, G., and Fauci, A.S. (2001). Isolation and quantitation of HIV in peripheral blood. Curr Protoc Immunol 5, Marechal, V., Clavel, F., Heard, J.M., and Schwartz, O. (1998). Cytosolic Gag p24 as an index of productive entry of human immunodeficiency virus type 1. J Virol 72, Pace, M.J., Graf, E.H., Agosto, L.M., Mexas, A.M., Male, F., Brady, T., Bushman, F.D., and O'Doherty, U. (2012). Directly Infected Resting CD4+T Cells Can Produce HIV Gag without Spreading Infection in a Model of HIV Latency. PLoS Pathog 8, e
15 Saez-Cirion, A., Lacabaratz, C., Lambotte, O., Versmisse, P., Urrutia, A., Boufassa, F., Barre-Sinoussi, F., Delfraissy, J.-F., Sinet, M., Pancino, G., et al. (2007). HIV controllers exhibit potent CD8 T cell capacity to suppress HIV infection ex vivo and peculiar cytotoxic T lymphocyte activation phenotype. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 104, Saez-Cirion, A., Shin, S.Y., Versmisse, P., Barre-Sinoussi, F., and Pancino, G. (2010). Ex vivo T cell-based HIV suppression assay to evaluate HIV-specific CD8+ T-cell responses. Nat Protoc 5, Spentzou, A., Bergin, P., Gill, D., Cheeseman, H., Ashraf, A., Kaltsidis, H., Cashin- Cox, M., Anjarwalla, I., Steel, A., Higgs, C., et al. (2010). Viral inhibition assay: a CD8 T cell neutralization assay for use in clinical trials of HIV-1 vaccine candidates. J Infect Dis 201, Yang, H., Wu, H., Hancock, G., Clutton, G., Sande, N., Xu, X., Yan, H., Huang, X., Angus, B., Kuldanek, K., et al. (2012). Antiviral Inhibitory Capacity of CD8+ T cells Predicts the Rate of CD4+ T-Cell Decline in HIV-1 Infection. J Infect Dis 206,
16 Figure legends Figure 1. Quantification of in HIV-1 infection in primary CD4+ T cells by optimised intracellular staining A. Effect of methanol concentration on detection of intracellular p24 Ag in HIV-1 BaL - infected CD4+ T cells (gated on CD3+ CD8 neg live lymphocytes in all figures to allow for nef-induced CD4 downregulation) after 5 day culture; values for individual culture wells are shown in right-hand panel. (B) Effect of methanol concentration on cell surface CD3 expression. Data are representative of two independent experiments and a minimum of 20,000 gated events were acquired. C. Comparison of 50% methanol perm with a standard protocol ( BD perm ) for detection of HIV-infected CD4+ T cells from 9 healthy donors. Symbols indicate corresponding data from each donor. D. Frequencies of HIV-1 BaL -infected CD4+ T cells were determined in 13 subjects on day 5 after infection using the methanol-based protocol; cumulative p24 Ag in supernatants during 5 days culture was quantified by ELISA. Data represent means of duplicate or triplicate wells. E. Primary CD4+ cells were infected with NLAD8 EGFP IRES_Nef and cultured for 5 days, then stained for p24 Ag using the methanol-based protocol. Figure 2 Infection rate of primary and laboratory-adapted HIV-1 isolates in primary CD4+ T cells CD4+ T cells from 16 subjects were infected with various HIV-1 isolates at MOIs indicated in Supplementary Table 1 and cultured for 11 days prior to FACS analysis.
17 A. Representative data from one subject showing infection rate according to virus isolate and duration of culture. B. Median peak infection rate for each virus is indicated by horizontal line (IQR - error bars). number of subjects tested with each viral isolate was follows: BaL -10, IIIB 9, A1 10, A2-10, C- 10, BG 10 (3 subjects were tested with all 6 viruses). The donor used in panel A is indicated by symbol X.
18 Methanol concentration (v/v) 0% 35% 50% 75% 2.0% 7.0% 8.9% 9.3% p24 Ag CD Methanol (v/v) 75% 50% 35% 0% CD3 APC-Cy % 35% 50% 75% % Max p24 Ag+ cells (%CD4+) A B C Methanol conc. (v/v) p = mock HIV BaL BD perm 50% methanol perm p24 Ag+ cells (% CD4+) p24 Ag+ cells (% CD4+) r = 0.85 p = CD4 P24 Ag D E p24 Ag (log 10 pg/ml) mock HIV BaL 97% GFP GFP
19 A B p24 Ag+ cells (% CD4+ T cells) days post-infection
20 Supplementary Table 1 HIV-1 isolates Isolate Clade Primary isolate Tropism MOI BaL B No R IIIB B No X4 2x UG029 A (A1*) Yes R5/X RW93024 A (A2*) Yes X4 3x10-3 ES X-1936 C Yes R5 9x10-3 CRF_14 BG* Yes R5/X * Isolate identifier used in Fig. 2
21 Supplementary Table 2 Costs of viral inhibition assay using optimised intracellular p24 assay and p24 ELISA (USD, based on one E:T ratio, one time-point) Assay Flow cytometry a ELISA b Number of culture wells (duplicate wells of 6 6 uninfected CD4, HIV-infected CD4 alone, HIVinfected CD4 + CD8) Number of samples generated for analysis per subject 6 24 Cost per sample analysed Cost per subject analysed a Antibody costs per sample analysed: KC57-FITC (p24 Ag, Beckman Coulter) $1.89; CD3- APC-Cy7 (Biolegend) - $0.53; CD8-APC (Biolegend) - $0.30; CD4-perCP (BD) - $1.38; Aqua Live/Dead (Invitrogen) - $1.22; Compensation beads (BD) - $1.03 b QuickTitre HIV Lentivirus Quantitation Kit, Cell Biolabs Inc. (San Diego, USA): cost of 5 kits - $3291. Costs 15% higher for a single kit. Each 96 well plate has 80 wells available for sample analysis.
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