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Cell Host Microbe. 2015 Nov 11;18(5):538-48.

M. tuberculosis T Cell Epitope Analysis Reveals Paucity of Antigenic Variation and Identifies Rare Variable TB Antigens.


Pathogens that evade adaptive immunity typically exhibit antigenic variation. By contrast, it appears that although the chronic human tuberculosis (TB)-causing pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis needs to counter host T cell responses, its T cell epitopes are hyperconserved. Here we present an extensive analysis of the T cell epitopes of M. tuberculosis. We combined population genomics with experimental immunology to determine the number and identity of T cell epitope sequence variants in 216 phylogenetically diverse strains of M. tuberculosis. Antigen conservation is indeed a hallmark of M. tuberculosis. However, our analysis revealed a set of seven variable antigens that were immunogenic in subjects with active TB. These findings suggest that M. tuberculosis uses mechanisms other than antigenic variation to evade T cells. T cell epitopes that exhibit sequence variation may not be subject to the same evasion mechanisms, and hence vaccines that include such variable epitopes may be more efficacious.

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