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J Immunol. 2006 Apr 1;176(7):4003-11.

Distinct, cross-reactive epitope specificities of CD8 T cell responses are induced by natural hepatitis B surface antigen variants of different hepatitis B virus genotypes.

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Department of Internal Medicine I, University of Ulm, Germany.


We investigated the specific and cross-reactive CD8 T cell immunity to three natural variants (of different geno/serotype) of the small hepatitis B surface Ag (or S protein). The D(d)-binding variants of the S(201-209) epitope showed different immunogenicity. The loss of the consensus C-terminal (P9) anchor abrogated its immunogenicity. In contrast, a conservative (serine vs asparagine) exchange at P7 primed cross-reactive CD8 T cells that preferentially recognized the priming variant. Cross-reactive CD8 T cell responses to a variant could be primed in mice tolerant to an alternative variant of the D(d)-binding S(201-209) peptide. Loss of the C-terminal (P10) anchor in S(185-194) eliminated its immunogenicity in HLA-A*0201(A2)-transgenic mice but two conservative exchanges (leucine vs valine in P2, and leucine vs isoleucine in P6) in S(208-216) generated cross-reactive CD8 T cell responses with strong preference for the priming variant. Similar cross-reactive recognition of variant envelope epitopes were also found in S(208-216)-specific CD8 T cells from hepatitis B virus (HBV)-infected patients. Distinct CD8 T cell populations cross-reactive to natural variants of class I-restricted HBV epitopes can be primed by vaccination (of mice) or natural infection (of humans), and they may play a role in the "spontaneous remission" or the specific immunotherapy of chronic HBV infection.

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