Cross-reactive memory T cells for Epstein-Barr virus augment the alloresponse to common human leukocyte antigens: degenerate recognition of major histocompatibility complex-bound peptide by T cells and its role in alloreactivity



In the present report, cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) clones are described that display dual specificity for one of two common human leukocyte antigens (HLA B14 or B35) as alloantigens, and an immunodominant epitope (FLRGRAYGL) from Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) that binds to HLA B8. These T cell clonotypes were isolated from several unrelated HLA B8+, EBV-exposed individuals, and each distinct cross-reactivity pattern was associated with a common, public T cell receptor (TCR). In some individuals, CTL cross-reactive with these alloantigens completely dominated the memory response to this EBV epitope. Moreover, these memory T cells to EBV could be reactivated as a significant component of the repertoire of CTL responding to allogeneic stimulator cells expressing either HLA B14 or B35. These data illustrate how a history of infection with an immunogenic virus such as EBV can augment responsiveness to particular alloantigens; such influences may underlie the observed clinical association between herpesvirus infection and both allograft rejection and graft-versus-host disease. We have also explored the molecular basis for T cell cross-reactivity with alloantigens using the HLA B35 allo-reactive CTL clonotype. To elucidate the structural features of peptides that may be cross-recognized by these T cells, mono-substituted analogs of the viral epitope were screened for recognition, revealing broad specificity for major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-bound peptide. Based on the particular amino acid changes tolerated by the CTL at each peptide position, the human protein sequence database was searched for possible sequences that were recognized in association with HLA B35. Four peptides were identified (MPEATVYGL, IPIAPVYGM, KPSPPYFGL, and KPIVVLHGY) that were powerful activating ligands for the CTL when presented on HLA B35 but not B8. Thus, equivalent epitopes, capable of fully activating a single TCR, were formed by peptides with minimal obvious sequence homology bound to either HLA B8 or B35. These data indicate that degenerate peptide recognition by TCR may play an important role in the vigorous response of self-MHC-restricted T cells to alloantigens.