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J Immunol. 2004 Jan 1;172(1):483-92.

Conserved hierarchy of helper T cell responses in a chimpanzee during primary and secondary hepatitis C virus infections.

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Center for Vaccines and Immunity, Columbus Children's Research Institute, 700 Children's Drive, Columbus, OH 43205, USA.


Control of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection could be influenced by the timing and magnitude of CD4+ T cell responses against individual epitopes. We characterized CD4+ T cells targeting seven Pan troglodytes (Patr) class II-restricted epitopes during primary and secondary HCV infections of a chimpanzee. All Patr-DR-restricted HCV epitopes bound multiple human HLA-DR molecules, indicating the potential for overlap in epitopes targeted by both species. Some human MHC class II molecules efficiently stimulated IL-2 production by chimpanzee virus-specific T cell clones. Moreover, one conserved epitope designated NS3(1248) (GYKVLVLNPSV) overlapped a helper epitope that is presented by multiple HLA-DR molecules in humans who spontaneously resolved HCV infection. Resolution of primary infection in the chimpanzee was associated with an initial wave of CD4+ T cells targeting a limited set of dominant epitopes including NS3(1248.) A second wave of low-frequency CD4+ T cells targeting other subdominant epitopes appeared in blood several weeks later after virus replication was mostly contained. During a second infection 7 years later, CD4+ T cells against all epitopes appeared in blood sooner and at higher frequencies but the pattern of dominance was conserved. In summary, primary HCV infection in this individual was characterized by T cell populations targeting two groups of MHC class II-restricted epitopes that differed in frequency and kinetics of appearance in blood. The hierarchial nature of the CD4+ T cell response, if broadly applicable to other HCV-infected chimpanzees and humans, could be a factor governing the outcome of HCV infection.

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