Redundancy of the influenza A virus-specific cytotoxic T lymphocyte response in HLA-B*2705 transgenic mice limits the impact of a mutation in the immunodominant NP383-391 epitope on influenza pathogenesis
During the 1993-1994 flu season, influenza A/H3N2 viruses emerged with an amino acid substitution (R384G) at the anchor residue of the HLA-B*2705 restricted NP383-391epitope located in the nucleoprotein (NP). The R384G substitution reached fixation rapidly and abrogated recognition of A/H3N2 viruses by NP383-391-specific CD8+ T cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) completely. To test the impact of the R384G substitution in the immunodominant NP383-391epitope in vivo, influenza A viruses that differ at position 384 of the NP only were generated by reverse genetics. These viruses with an arginin (384R) or a glycin (384G) at position 384 were used to inoculate HLA-B*2705-transgenic mice and C57Bl/6 mice. Infection of naïve C57Bl/6 and HLA-B*2705 mice with influenza virus containing the NP383-391epitope (384R) caused more weight loss compared to infection with the virus without the epitope (384G). In contrast, HLA-B*2705 transgenic mice primed for a secondary CTL response by infection with a heterosubtypic influenza A virus, did not display this difference in virulence and the outcome of infection with the 384R virus was somewhat reduced. This phenotype of the 384R-virus was not observed in primed C57Bl/6 mice lacking HLA-B*2705. The relative reduction of weight loss after infection of primed HLA-B*2705+ mice with the 384R virus correlated with the CTL response to the NP383-391. However, no differences were observed in the kinetics of viral clearance between the two viruses in immune HLA-B*2705+ mice, which may be attributed at least partially to CTL responses to other HLA-B*2705 restricted epitopes that were similar in magnitude.