MHC class I-presented T cell epitopes identified by immunoproteomics analysis are targets for a cross reactive influenza-specific T cell response.

PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e48484. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0048484. Epub 2012 Nov 7.

Testa JS1, Shetty V, Hafner J, Nickens Z, Kamal S, Sinnathamby G, Philip R.

1Immunotope, Inc., Doylestown, PA, USA.


Influenza virus infection and the resulting complications are a significant global public health problem. Improving humoral immunity to influenza is the target of current conventional influenza vaccines, however, these are generally not cross-protective. On the contrary, cell-mediated immunity generated by primary influenza infection provides substantial protection against serologically distinct viruses due to recognition of cross-reactive T cell epitopes, often from internal viral proteins conserved between viral subtypes. Efforts are underway to develop a universal flu vaccine that would stimulate both the humoral and cellular immune responses leading to long-lived memory. Such a universal vaccine should target conserved influenza virus antibody and T cell epitopes that do not vary from strain to strain. In the last decade, immunoproteomics, or the direct identification of HLA class I presented epitopes, has emerged as an alternative to the motif prediction method for the identification of T cell epitopes. In this study, we used this method to uncover several cross-specific MHC class I specific T cell epitopes naturally presented by influenza A-infected cells. These conserved T cell epitopes, when combined with a cross-reactive antibody epitope from the ectodomain of influenza M2, generate cross-strain specific cell mediated and humoral immunity. Overall, we have demonstrated that conserved epitope-specific CTLs could recognize multiple influenza strain infected target cells and, when combined with a universal antibody epitope, could generate virus specific humoral and T cell responses, a step toward a universal vaccine concept. These epitopes also have potential as new tools to characterize T cell immunity in influenza infection, and may serve as part of a universal vaccine candidate complementary to current vaccines.

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