Associations of functional human leucocyte antigen class I groups with HIV viral load in a heterogeneous cohort

Adrian G Zucco*, Marc Bennedbæk, Christina Ekenberg, Migle Gabrielaite, Preston Leung, Mark N Polizzotto, Virginia Kan, Daniel D Murray, Jens D Lundgren, Cameron R MacPherson, INSIGHT START Study Group

*Corresponding author for this work
1 Citation (Scopus)


OBJECTIVE: Human leucocyte antigen (HLA) class I alleles are the main host genetic factors involved in controlling HIV-1 viral load (VL). Nevertheless, HLA diversity has proven a significant challenge in association studies. We assessed how accounting for binding affinities of HLA class I alleles to HIV-1 peptides facilitate association testing of HLA with HIV-1 VL in a heterogeneous cohort.

DESIGN: Cohort from the Strategic Timing of AntiRetroviral Treatment (START) study.

METHODS: We imputed HLA class I alleles from host genetic data (2546 HIV+ participants) and sampled immunopeptidomes from 2079 host-paired viral genomes (targeted amplicon sequencing). We predicted HLA class I binding affinities to HIV-1 and unspecific peptides, grouping alleles into functional clusters through consensus clustering. These functional HLA class I clusters were used to test associations with HIV VL.

RESULTS: We identified four clades totaling 30 HLA alleles accounting for 11.4% variability in VL. We highlight HLA-B∗57:01 and B∗57:03 as functionally similar but yet overrepresented in distinct ethnic groups, showing when combined a protective association with HIV+ VL (log, β -0.25; adj. P-value < 0.05). We further demonstrate only a slight power reduction when using unspecific immunopeptidomes, facilitating the use of the inferred functional HLA groups in other studies.

CONCLUSION: The outlined computational approach provides a robust and efficient way to incorporate HLA function and peptide diversity, aiding clinical association studies in heterogeneous cohorts. To facilitate access to the proposed methods and results we provide an interactive application for exploring data.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number11
Pages (from-to)1643-1650
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2023


  • Humans
  • Viral Load
  • HIV Infections/drug therapy
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I/genetics
  • HLA-B Antigens/genetics
  • HIV Seropositivity
  • HIV-1/genetics
  • Alleles
  • immunopeptidomes
  • major histocompatibility complex
  • machine learning
  • human leucocyte antigen
  • viral load


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