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Viral Immunol. 2010 Apr;23(2):169-80. doi: 10.1089/vim.2009.0099.

Analyses of the specificity of CD4 T cells during the primary immune response to influenza virus reveals dramatic MHC-linked asymmetries in reactivity to individual viral proteins.

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  • 1David H. Smith Center for Vaccine Biology and Immunology, and AaB Institute of Biomedical Sciences, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York 14642, USA.


Influenza is a contagious, acute respiratory disease that is a major cause of morbidity and mortality throughout the world. CD4 T cells play an important role in the immune response to this pathogen through the secretion of antiviral cytokines, and by providing help to CD8 T cells and B cells to promote the development of immunological memory and neutralizing antibody responses. Despite these well-defined roles in the anti-influenza response, our understanding of CD4 T-cell diversity and specificity remains limited. In the study reported here, overlapping peptides representing 5 different influenza viral proteins were used in EliSpot assays to enumerate and identify the specificity of anti-influenza CD4 T cells directly ex vivo following infection of mice with influenza virus, using two strains that express unrelated MHC class II molecules. These experiments evaluated whether the reactivity of CD4 T cells generally tracked with particular influenza proteins, or whether MHC preferences were the predominant factor dictating anti-CD4 T-cell specificity in the primary immune response. We made the unexpected discovery that the distribution of CD4 T-cell specificities for different influenza proteins varied significantly depending on the single class II molecule expressed in vivo. In SJL mice, the majority of epitopes were specific for the HA protein, while the NP protein dominated the response in C57BL/10 mice. Given the diversity of human MHC class II molecules, these findings have important implications for the ability to rationally design a vaccine that will generate a specific CD4 T-cell immune response that is effective across diverse human populations.

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