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J Immunol. 2013 Apr 1;190(7):3399-409. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1203173. Epub 2013 Mar 4.

The context of gene expression defines the immunodominance hierarchy of cytomegalovirus antigens.

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  • 1Department of Vaccinology, Helmholtz Center for Infection Research, Braunschweig 38124, Germany.


Natural immunity to CMV dominates the CD4 and CD8 memory compartments of the CMV-seropositive host. This property has been recently exploited for experimental CMV-based vaccine vector strategies, and it has shown promise in animal models of AIDS and Ebola disease. Although it is generally agreed that CMV-based vaccine vectors may induce highly protective and persistent memory T cells, the influence of the gene expression context on Ag-specific T cell memory responses and immune protection induced by CMV vectors is not known. Using murine CMV (MCMV) recombinants expressing a single CD8 T cell epitope from HSV-1 fused to different MCMV genes, we show that magnitude and kinetics of T cell responses induced by CMV are dependent on the gene expression of CMV Ags. Interestingly, the kinetics of the immune response to the HSV-1 epitope was paralleled by a reciprocal depression of immune responses to endogenous MCMV Ags. Infection with a recombinant MCMV inducing a vigorous initial immune response to the recombinant peptide resulted in a depressed early response to endogenous MCMV Ag. Another recombinant virus, which induced a slowly developing "inflationary" T cell response to the HSV-1 peptide, induced weaker long-term responses to endogenous CMV Ags. Importantly, both mutants were able to protect mice from a challenge with HSV-1, mediating strong sterilizing immunity. Our data suggest that the context of gene expression markedly influences the T cell immunodominance hierarchy of CMV Ags, but the immune protection against HSV-1 does not require inflationary CD8 responses against the recombinant CMV-expressed epitope.

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