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J Virol. 2000 Feb;74(4):1871-84.

The putative natural killer decoy early gene m04 (gp34) of murine cytomegalovirus encodes an antigenic peptide recognized by protective antiviral CD8 T cells.

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  • 1Institute for Virology, Johannes Gutenberg University, 55101 Mainz, Germany.


Several early genes of murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV) encode proteins that mediate immune evasion by interference with the major histocompatibility complex class I (MHC-I) pathway of antigen presentation to cytolytic T lymphocytes (CTL). Specifically, the m152 gene product gp37/40 causes retention of MHC-I molecules in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-Golgi intermediate compartment. Lack of MHC-I on the cell surface should activate natural killer (NK) cells recognizing the "missing self." The retention, however, is counteracted by the m04 early gene product gp34, which binds to folded MHC-I molecules in the ER and directs the complex to the cell surface. It was thus speculated that gp34 might serve to silence NK cells and thereby complete the immune evasion of MCMV. In light of these current views, we provide here results demonstrating an in vivo role for gp34 in protective antiviral immunity. We have identified an antigenic nonapeptide derived from gp34 and presented by the MHC-I molecule D(d). Besides the immunodominant immediate-early nonapeptide consisting of IE1 amino acids 168-176 (IE1(168-176)), the early nonapeptide m04(243-251) is the second antigenic peptide described for MCMV. The primary immune response to MCMV generates significant m04-specific CD8 T-cell memory. Upon adoptive transfer into immunodeficient recipients, an m04-specific CTL line controls MCMV infection with an efficacy comparable to that of an IE1-specific CTL line. Thus, gp34 is the first noted early protein of MCMV that escapes viral immune evasion mechanisms. These data document that MCMV is held in check by a redundance of protective CD8 T cells recognizing antigenic peptides in different phases of viral gene expression.

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