HIV-specific CD8+ T cells partially control viral replication and delay disease progression, but they rarely provide lasting protection, largely due to immune escape. Here, we show that engrafting mice with memory CD4+ T cells from HIV+ donors uniquely allows for the in vivo evaluation of autologous T cell responses while avoiding graft-versus-host disease and the need for human fetal tissues that limit other models. Treating HIV-infected mice with clinically relevant HIV-specific T cell products resulted in substantial reductions in viremia. In vivo activity was significantly enhanced when T cells were engineered with surface-conjugated nanogels carrying an IL-15 superagonist, but it was ultimately limited by the pervasive selection of a diverse array of escape mutations, recapitulating patterns seen in humans. By applying mathematical modeling, we show that the kinetics of the CD8+ T cell response have a profound impact on the emergence and persistence of escape mutations. This “participant-derived xenograft” model of HIV provides a powerful tool for studying HIV-specific immunological responses and facilitating the development of effective cell-based therapies.

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