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Immunology. 2010 Dec;131(4):537-48. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2567.2010.03326.x. Epub 2010 Aug 16.

Persistent viral infection in humans can drive high frequency low-affinity T-cell expansions.

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Division of Immunology, School of Infection & Host Defence, University Of Liverpool, Daulby Street, Liverpool, UK.


CD8 T cells that recognize cytomegalovirus (CMV) -encoded peptides can be readily detected by staining with human leucocyte antigen (HLA) -peptide tetramers. These cells are invariably highly differentiated effector memory cells with high avidity T-cell receptors (TCR). In this report we demonstrate an HLA-A*0201 restricted CMV-specific CD8 T-cell response (designated YVL) that represents several percent of the CD8 T-cell subset, yet fails to bind tetrameric major histocompatibility complex (MHC) ligands. However, these tetramer-negative cells are both phenotypically and functionally similar to other CMV-specific CD8 T cells. YVL peptide-specific CD8 T-cell clones were generated and found to be of high avidity in both cytotoxicity and interferon-γ (IFN-γ) assays, and comparable with other CMV peptide-specific CD8 T-cell clones. However, under conditions of CD8 blockade, the response was almost nullified even at very high ligand concentrations. This was also the case in IFN-γ experiments using peripheral blood mononuclear cells stimulated with peptide ex vivo. In contrast, all other CMV specificities (tetramer-positive) displayed minimal or only partial CD8 dependence. This suggests that YVL-specific responses depict a low-affinity TCR-MHC-peptide interaction, that is compensated by substantial CD8 involvement for functional purposes, yet cannot engage multivalent soluble ligands for ex vivo analysis. It is interesting that such a phenomenon is apparent in the face of a persistent virus infection such as CMV, where the responding cells represent an immunodominant response in that individual and may present a highly differentiated effector phenotype.

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