The extraordinary variability of HIV-1 poses a major obstacle to vaccine development. The effectiveness of a vaccine is likely to vary dramatically in different populations infected with different HIV-1 subtypes, unless innovative vaccine immunogens are developed to protect against the range of HIV-1 diversity. Immunogen design for stimulating neutralizing antibody responses focuses on “breadth” – the targeting of a handful of highly conserved neutralizing determinants on the HIV-1 Envelope protein that can recognize the majority of viruses across all HIV-1 subtypes. An effective vaccine will likely require the generation of both broadly cross-neutralizing antibodies and non-neutralizing antibodies, as well as broadly cross-reactive T cells. Several approaches have been taken to design such broadly-reactive and cross-protective T cell immunogens. Artificial sequences have been designed that reduce the genetic distance between a vaccine strain and contemporary circulating viruses; “mosaic” immunogens extend this concept to contain multiple potential T cell epitope (PTE) variants; and further efforts attempt to focus T cell immunity on highly conserved regions of the HIV-1 genome. Thus far, a number of pre-clinical and early clinical studies have been performed assessing these new immunogens. In this review, the potential use of these new immunogens is explored.
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