Influenza virus-specific CD8+ T lymphocytes (CTLs) contribute to clearance of influenza virus infections and reduce disease severity. Variation at amino acid residues located in or outside CTL epitopes has been shown to affect viral recognition by virus-specific CTLs. In the present study, we investigated the effect of naturally occurring variation at residues outside the conserved immunodominant and HLA*0201-restricted M158-66 epitope, located in the influenza virus M1 protein, on the extent of virus replication in the presence of CTLs specific for the epitope. To this end, we used isogenic viruses with an M1 gene segment derived from either an avian or a human influenza virus, HLA-transgenic human epithelial cells, human T cell clones specific for the M158-66 epitope or a control epitope, and a novel, purposely developed in vitro system to coculture influenza virus-infected cells with T cells. We found that the M gene segment of a human influenza A/H3N2 virus afforded the virus the capacity to replicate better in the presence of M158-66-specific CTLs than the M gene segment of avian viruses. These findings are in concordance with previously observed differential CTL activation, caused by variation at extraepitopic residues, and may reflect an immune adaptation strategy of human influenza viruses that allows them to cope with potent CTL immunity to the M158-66 epitope in HLA-A*0201-positive individuals, resulting in increased virus replication and shedding and possibly increasing disease severity.

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Journal of Virology
Department of Virology

van de Sandt, C., Pronk, M., van Baalen, C., Fouchier, R., & Rimmelzwaan, G. (2018). Variation at extra-epitopic amino acid residues influences suppression of influenza virus replication by M158-66 epitope-specific CD8+ T lymphocytes. Journal of Virology, 92(11). doi:10.1128/JVI.00232-18