Natural influenza A virus infections elicit both virus-specific antibody and CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses. Influenza A virusspecific CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) contribute to clearance of influenza virus infections. Viral CTL epitopes can display variation, allowing influenza A viruses to evade recognition by epitope-specific CTLs. Due to functional constraints, some epitopes, like the immunodominant HLA-A*0201-restricted matrix protein 1 (M158-66) epitope, are highly conserved between influenza A viruses regardless of their subtype or host species of origin. We hypothesized that human influenza A viruses evade recognition of this epitope by impairing antigen processing and presentation by extraepitopic amino acid substitutions. Activation of specific T cells was used as an indication of antigen presentation. Here, we show that the M158-66 epitope in the M1 protein derived from human influenza A virus was poorly recognized compared to the M1 protein derived from avian influenza A virus. Furthermore, we demonstrate that naturally occurring variations at extraepitopic amino acid residues affect CD8+ T cell recognition of the M158-66 epitope. These data indicate that human influenza A viruses can impair recognition by M158-66-specific CTLs while retaining the conserved amino acid sequence of the epitope, which may represent a yet-unknown immune evasion strategy for influenza A viruses. This difference in recognition may have implications for the viral replication kinetics in HLA-A*0201 individuals and spread of influenza A viruses in the human population. The findings may aid the rational design of universal influenza vaccines that aim at the induction of cross-reactive virus-specific CTL responses.,
Journal of Virology
Department of Virology

van de Sandt, C., Kreijtz, J., Geelhoed-Mieras, M., Nieuwkoop, N., Spronken, M., van de Vijver, D., … Rimmelzwaan, G. (2016). Differential recognition of influenza A viruses by M158-66 epitopespecific CD8+ T cells is determined by extraepitopic amino acid residues. Journal of Virology, 90(2), 1009–1022. doi:10.1128/JVI.02439-15