Longitudinal mapping of protective CD4+ T cell responses against HCV: analysis of fluctuating dominant and subdominant HLA-DR11 restricted epitopes.
Harcourt GC., Lucas M., Sheridan I., Barnes E., Phillips R., Klenerman P.
Cellular immunity plays an important role in the control of persistent virus infections such as hepatitis C virus (HCV). Antiviral CD4(+) T cell responses have been shown to accompany resolution of acute disease and there is also a consistent association between HLA Class II genes, notably HLADRB1*1101 (and the closely linked HLADQB1*0301) and disease resolution. We initially mapped longitudinal CD4(+) T cell responses in an individual after spontaneous resolution of acute HCV, and identified three HLA-DR11-restricted responses which vary in immunodominance over time. Functional assays and HLA Class II tetramer staining revealed one to be a response to a commonly recognized epitope, NS3(1248-1261), although cytokine capture assays showed these specific cells to be at a very low frequency. In this patient, and in others reported, this most frequently recognized HLA-DR11 restricted epitope is not immunodominant. We analysed whether sequence variability within and between genotypes might account for differences in recognition of HLA-DR11 restricted epitopes. We found that a limited number, including NS3(1248-1261), showed extreme sequence conservation. Within NS3, the ability of peptides to accept amino acid substitutions was clearly related to the structure of the protein. Overall the data provide a deeper understanding of the relationship between protein structure and variability of HLA-DR11 restricted peptides and may explain the apparent dominance of responses to NS3(1248-1261) across studies but not within an individual immune response.