Recently it was shown that influenza A viruses can accumulate mutations in epitopes associated with escape from recognition by human virus-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL). It is unclear what drives diversification of CTL epitopes and why certain epitopes are variable and others remain conserved. It has been shown that simian immunodeficiency virus-specific CTL that recognize their epitope with high functional avidity eliminate virus-infected cells efficiently and drive diversification of CTL epitopes. T-cell functional avidity is defined by the density of major histocompatibility complex class I peptide complexes required to activate specific CTL. We hypothesized that functional avidity of CTL contributes to epitope diversification and escape from CTL also for influenza viruses. To test this hypothesis, the functional avidity of polyclonal CTL populations specific for nine individual epitopes was determined. To this end, peripheral blood mononuclear cells from HLA-A- and -B-genotyped individuals were stimulated in vitro with influenza virus-infected cells to allow expansion of virus-specific CTL, which were used to determine the functional avidity of CTL specific for nine individual epitopes in enzyme-linked immunospot assays. We found that the functional avidity for the respective epitopes varied widely. Furthermore, the functional avidity of CTL specific for the hypervariable NP(418-426) epitope was significantly higher than that of CTL recognizing other epitopes (P < 0.01). It was speculated that the high functional avidity of NP(418-426)-specific CTL was responsible for the diversification of this influenza A virus CTL epitope.

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Journal of Virology
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Boon, A., de Mutsert, G., Fouchier, R., Osterhaus, A., & Rimmelzwaan, G. (2006). The hypervariable immunodominant NP418-426 epitope from the influenza A virus nucleoprotein is recognized by cytotoxic T lymphocytes with high functional avidity. Journal of Virology, 80(12), 6024–6032. doi:10.1128/JVI.00009-06