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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Jan 13;112(2):E147-55. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1416537112. Epub 2014 Dec 29.

Immunological consequences of intragenus conservation of Mycobacterium tuberculosis T-cell epitopes.

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Division of Vaccine Discovery, La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, La Jolla, CA 92037; and
Division of Vaccine Discovery, La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, La Jolla, CA 92037; and.
Institute for Research in Biomedicine, Università della Svizzera Italiana, 6500 Bellinzona, Switzerland.


A previous unbiased genome-wide analysis of CD4 Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) recognition using peripheral blood mononuclear cells from individuals with latent MTB infection (LTBI) or nonexposed healthy controls (HCs) revealed that certain MTB sequences were unexpectedly recognized by HCs. In the present study, it was found that, based on their pattern of reactivity, epitopes could be divided into LTBI-specific, mixed reactivity, and HC-specific categories. This pattern corresponded to sequence conservation in nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTMs), suggesting environmental exposure as an underlying cause of differential reactivity. LTBI-specific epitopes were found to be hyperconserved, as previously reported, whereas the opposite was true for NTM conserved epitopes, suggesting that intragenus conservation also influences host pathogen adaptation. The biological relevance of this observation was demonstrated further by several observations. First, the T cells elicited by MTB/NTM cross-reactive epitopes in HCs were found mainly in a CCR6(+)CXCR3(+) memory subset, similar to findings in LTBI individuals. Thus, both MTB and NTM appear to elicit a phenotypically similar T-cell response. Second, T cells reactive to MTB/NTM-conserved epitopes responded to naturally processed epitopes from MTB and NTMs, whereas T cells reactive to MTB-specific epitopes responded only to MTB. Third, cross-reactivity could be translated to antigen recognition. Several MTB candidate vaccine antigens were cross-reactive, but others were MTB-specific. Finally, NTM-specific epitopes that elicit T cells that recognize NTMs but not MTB were identified. These epitopes can be used to characterize T-cell responses to NTMs, eliminating the confounding factor of MTB cross-recognition and providing insights into vaccine design and evaluation.


NTM; T-cell epitope; T-cell subset; epitope conservation; tuberculosis

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