Attenuated poxviruses are safe and capable of expressing foreign antigens. Poxviruses are applied in veterinary vaccination and explored as candidate vaccines for humans. However, poxviruses express multiple genes encoding proteins that interfere with components of the innate and adaptive immune response. This manuscript describes two strategies aimed to improve the immunogenicity of the highly attenuated, host-range restricted poxvirus NYVAC: deletion of the viral gene encoding type-I interferon-binding protein and development of attenuated replication-competent NYVAC. We evaluated these newly generated NYVAC mutants, encoding HIV-1 env, gag, pol and nef, for their ability to stimulate HIV-specific CD8 T-cell responses in vitro from blood mononuclear cells of HIV-infected subjects. The new vectors were evaluated and compared to the parental NYVAC vector in dendritic cells (DCs), RNA expression arrays, HIV gag expression and cross-presentation assays in vitro. Deletion of type-I interferon-binding protein enhanced expression of interferon and interferon-induced genes in DCs, and increased maturation of infected DCs. Restoration of replication competence induced activation of pathways involving antigen processing and presentation. Also, replication-competent NYVAC showed increased Gag expression in infected cells, permitting enhanced cross-presentation to HIV-specific CD8 T cells and proliferation of HIV-specific memory CD8 T-cells in vitro. The recombinant NYVAC combining both modifications induced interferon-induced genes and genes involved in antigen processing and presentation, as well as increased Gag expression. This combined replication-competent NYVAC is a promising candidate for the next generation of HIV vaccines.
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