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J Exp Med. 2009 Jul 6;206(7):1525-34. doi: 10.1084/jem.20090504. Epub 2009 Jun 29.

Human naive and memory CD4+ T cell repertoires specific for naturally processed antigens analyzed using libraries of amplified T cells.

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  • 1Institute for Research in Biomedicine, CH-6500 Bellinzona, Switzerland.


The enormous diversity of the naive T cell repertoire is instrumental in generating an immune response to virtually any foreign antigen that can be processed into peptides that bind to MHC molecules. The low frequency of antigen-specific naive T cells, their high activation threshold, and the constrains of antigen-processing and presentation have hampered analysis of naive repertoires to complex protein antigens. In this study, libraries of polyclonally expanded naive T cells were used to determine frequency and antigen dose-response of human naive CD4(+) T cells specific for a variety of antigens and to isolate antigen-specific T cell clones. In the naive repertoire, T cells specific for primary antigens, such as KLH and Bacillus anthracis protective antigen, and for recall antigens, such as tetanus toxoid, cytomegalovirus, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis purified protein derivative, were detected at frequencies ranging from 5 to 170 cells per 10(6) naive T cells. Antigen concentrations required for half-maximal response (EC50) varied over several orders of magnitude for different naive T cells. In contrast, in the memory repertoire, T cells specific for primary antigens were not detected, whereas T cells specific for recall antigens were detected at high frequencies and displayed EC50 values in the low range of antigen concentrations. The method described may find applications for evaluation of vaccine candidates, for testing antigenicity of therapeutic proteins, drugs, and chemicals, and for generation of antigen-specific T cell clones for adoptive cellular immunotherapy.

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