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J Immunol. 1992 Aug 1;149(3):972-80.

Discrepancy between in vitro measurable and in vivo virus neutralizing cytotoxic T cell reactivities. Low T cell receptor specificity and avidity sufficient for in vitro proliferation or cytotoxicity to peptide-coated target cells but not for in vivo protection.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, University Hospital of Zürich, Switzerland.


The TCR-alpha beta of CTL recognize peptide Ag in association with MHC class I molecules. TCR binding should be highly specific to guarantee pathogen specificity and to avoid self-reactivity. Therefore, the in vivo relevance of T cells exhibiting cross-reactivities in vitro and the respective role of the TCR affinities involved are not clear. To analyze high and low avidity T cell activities both in vitro and in vivo, we investigated primary and clonal CTL responses specific for the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus nucleoprotein 118-126 epitope in association with the two closely related H-2Ld or H-2Lq molecules. As expected, we found highly specific class I-allele-restricted CTL responses when antiviral protection or immunopathology in vivo and lysis of virus infected target cells in vitro were analyzed. In contrast, the CTL were MHC crossreactive and thus considerably less discriminatory against targets expressing high MHC-peptide densities and in proliferation assays. The data show that relatively high TCR avidities are required for virus neutralization in vivo, in contrast to in vitro analyses of peptide-coated target cells or proliferative T cell responses that may engage TCR of low avidity and broad specificity and therefore may not reflect biologically relevant TCR avidities.

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