Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Veterinary Science

First Advisor

Dr. David W. Horohov


Equine infectious anemia virus (EIAV) has been used as a model to investigate protective mechanisms against lentiviruses. Unlike other lentiviruses, EIAV replication can be eventually controlled in most infected horses leading to an inapparent carrier state free of overt clinical signs which can last for many years. Maintenance of this carrier state is absolutely dependent on active immune responses as evidenced by the fact that immunosuppressive drugs can induce the recurrence of disease. However, the immune mechanisms that are responsible for this control of infection are not yet identified. As the resolution of the initial infection is correlated with the appearance of the virus-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL), it appears that cellular immune responses play an important role. However, most studies into this protective mechanism have been limited to the identification of specific epitopes, usually at a single time point in the infection. Few studies have examined the cellular immune responses to the viral antigens throughout the infection period. Since the virus undergoes rapid mutation following infection, the adaptive immune response must also evolve to meet this challenge. Previously, the EIAV envelope (gp90) protein was shown to be the primary determinant of vaccine efficacy. Here, we hypothesized that the maturation of cellular immune responses is a lengthy process and involves envelope-specific T cell recognition shifting from immunodominant variable determinants to conserved immunorecessive determinants during the initial stages of the EIAV infection. The first part of this dissertation was to develop a new in vivo method to identify envelope-specific T cell responses. The second part of this dissertation was to investigate whether envelope-specific T cell recognition evolved in EIAV-infected ponies. Finally, the mechanisms for this T cell immunodominant shifting were also investigated from the point of both virus sequence mutation and T cell clone expansion and contraction. Also, a new EIAV attenuated vaccine which contained a consensus gp90 sequence was tested to see if it facilitated T cell recognition of the more conserved regions early in the infection. Our results indicated that envelope-specific T cell recognition patterns changed over time. Early after infection, dominant immune responses to the peptides in the carboxyl-terminus variable region were identified. By six months post infection, the recognized peptides spanned the entire envelope sequence, with a shift to the amino-terminus conserved region. The mechanisms responsible for this change remain unclear, but analysis of T cell receptor repertoire indicated that T cell clonal expansion and contraction might be one of the reasons. Our demonstration that envelope-specific peptide recognition shifts from the variable to the more conserved regions provides evidence that the maturation of cell mediated immune response is parallelled with long-term control of this infection.