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J Virol. 2004 Feb;78(3):1150-9.

Effects of an epitope-specific CD8+ T-cell response on murine coronavirus central nervous system disease: protection from virus replication and antigen spread and selection of epitope escape mutants.

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Department of Microbiology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-6076, USA.


Both CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells are required for clearance of the murine coronavirus mouse hepatitis virus (MHV) during acute infection. We investigated the effects of an epitope-specific CD8(+) T-cell response on acute infection of MHV, strain A59, in the murine CNS. Mice with CD8(+) T cells specific for gp33-41 (an H-2D(b)-restricted CD8(+) T-cell epitope derived from lymphocytic choriomeningitis glycoprotein) were infected with a recombinant MHV-A59, also expressing gp33-41, as a fusion protein with enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP). By 5 days postinfection, these mice showed significantly (approximately 20-fold) lower titers of infectious virus in the brain compared to control mice. Furthermore mice with gp33-41-specific CD8(+) cells exhibited much reduced levels of viral antigen in the brain as measured by immunohistochemistry using an antibody directed against viral nucleocapsid. More than 90% of the viruses recovered from brain lysates of such protected mice, at 5 days postinfection, had lost the ability to express EGFP and had deletions in their genomes encompassing EGFP and gp33-41. In addition, genomes of viruses from about half the plaques that retained the EGFP gene had mutations within the gp33-41 epitope. On the other hand, gp33-41-specific cells failed to protect perforin-deficient mice from infection by the recombinant MHV expressing gp33, indicating that perforin-mediated mechanisms were needed. Virus recovered from perforin-deficient mice did not exhibit loss of EGFP expression and the gp33-41 epitope. These observations suggest that the cytotoxic T-cell response to gp33-41 exerts a strong immune pressure that quickly selects epitope escape mutants to gp33-41.

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