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Streptococcus pneumoniae is an encapsulated bacterium that causes significant global morbidity and mortality. The nasopharynxes of children are believed to be the natural reservoir of pneumococcus and by adulthood nasopharyngeal carriage is infrequent; such infrequency may be due to demonstrable pneumococcal specific T and B-cell responses. HLA Class 2 tetrameric complexes have been used to characterise antigen specific T-cell responses in a variety of models of infection. We therefore sought to determine the frequency and phenotype of pneumococcal specific T-cells, using a novel HLA-DRB1*1501 tetramer complex incorporating a recently defined T-cell epitope derived from the conserved pneumococcal serine/threonine kinase (StkP). We were able to detect direct ex-vivo StkP(446-60)-tetramer binding in HLA-DRB1*1501 adults. These StkP(446-60)-tetramer binding T-cells had increased CD38 expression and were enriched in CCR7- CD45RA+ expression indicating recent and on-going activation and differentiation. Furthermore, these StkP(446-60)-tetramer binding T-cells demonstrated rapid effector function by secreting interferon-gamma on stimulation with recombinant StkP. This is the first study to directly enumerate and characterise pneumococcal specific T-cells using HLA class 2 tetrameric complexes. We found that ex-vivo pneumococcal-specific T cells were detectable in healthy adults and that they were enriched with cell surface markers associated with recent antigen exposure and later stages of antigen-driven differentiation. It is likely that these activated pneumococcal specific T-cells reflect recent immunostimulatory pneumococcal exposure in the nasopharynx and it is possible that they may be preventing subsequent colonisation and disease.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Adult, Amino Acid Sequence, Cell Proliferation, Epitopes, Humans, Immunophenotyping, Lymphocyte Activation, Molecular Sequence Data, Reference Values, Streptococcus pneumoniae, T-Lymphocytes