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J Immunol. 1999 Jul 15;163(2):650-8.

Hypervariable region 1 variants act as TCR antagonists for hepatitis C virus-specific CD4+ T cells.

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  • 1Department of Cellular and Developmental Biology, La Sapienza University, Rome, Italy.


In various human viral infections, the appearance of mutated epitopes displaying TCR antagonistic activity has been correlated with the severity and persistence of infection. In hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, where the virus persistence has been associated with the rapid and substantial Ag modifications occurring during replication, TCR antagonism has been evidenced in CD8+ T cell responses. However, CD4+ T cell antagonism may be another important strategy by which HCV eludes a protective response, because sustained Th responses directed against several HCV Ags are associated with a self-limited course of infection. The data reported here represent the first evidence that variants of the hypervariable region (HVR1) of the putative Envelope 2 protein of HCV can act as powerful TCR antagonists for HVR1-specific CD4+ T cells isolated from HCV-infected individuals. Using classical antagonism assays, we observed strong inhibition of cellular proliferation and cytokine production when the agonist and the antagonist ligands were simultaneously presented by the same APCs. The presence in HVR1 of conserved residues, critical for binding to HLA-DR molecules, supports the function of HVR1 variants as TCR antagonists. In conclusion, our data evidence an antagonism phenomenon, which was achieved by naturally occurring class II-restricted T cell epitopes whose mechanism was addressed in terms of the antagonist capacity to inhibit agonist-mediated TCR down-regulation and early signal transduction.

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