Identification of key peptide-specific CD4+ T cell responses to human cytomegalovirus: implications for tracking antiviral populations.
Harcourt GC., Scriba TJ., Semmo N., Bounds S., Taylor E., Klenerman P.
Human cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection is normally controlled effectively by the immune response, including CD4(+) T cells. Large numbers of these cells are present in healthy seropositive individuals but their loss in immunosuppression leads to reactivation and disease. Tracking such responses in vivo is hampered by poor definition of their peptide targets. In this study, we defined the key targets of the peptide-specific CD4(+) T cell responses to the CMV pp65 protein using functional assays and a peptide library. Despite a good deal of interindividual variation in the numbers of peptides recognized, responses to CMV pp65 were strikingly targeted at three key epitopes. A response to one or more of these three key peptides was seen in all individuals tested (P < 0.0001) and this finding was tested and reproduced in a second independent population. The most common response identified was that to a DR53 restricted epitope, aa281-295. HLA-DR1 restricted CMV pp65-specific populations, although reproducibly detected, were of low frequency ex vivo. However, it was possible to detect and phenotype these cells using an enrichment protocol and this revealed them to have 'effector memory' status although, in contrast to CD8(+) T cell responses, these were CD45RA(-). These data suggest that CD4(+) T cell responses to CMV can be identified reliably using a pool of just three peptides. This simple approach will provide a robust and reliable as well as economic method for tracking peptide specific populations in health and disease.