• Antigen Presentation;
  • Cytotoxic T Cells;
  • Epitopes;
  • Human;
  • Viral


The factors controlling epitope selection in the T cell response to persistent viruses are not fully understood, and we have examined this issue in the context of four HLA-B*35-binding peptides from the pp65 antigen of human cytomegalovirus, two of which are previously undescribed. Striking differences in the hierarchy of immunodominance between these four epitopes were observed in healthy virus carriers expressing HLA-B*3501 versus B*3508, two HLA-B allotypes that differ by a single amino acid at position 156 (HLA-B*3501, 156Leucine; HLA-B*3508, 156Arginine) that projects from the α2 helix into the centre of the peptide-binding groove. While HLA-B*3501+ individuals responded most strongly to the 123IPSINVHHY131 and 366HPTFTSQY373 epitopes, HLA-B*3508+ individuals responded preferentially to 103CPSQEPMSIYVY114 and 188FPTKDVAL195. By comparing peptide-MHC association and disassociation rates with peptide immunogenicity, it was clear that dissociation rates correlate more closely with the hierarchy of immunodominance among the four pp65 peptides. These findings demonstrate that MHC micropolymorphism at positions outside the primary anchor residue binding pockets can have a major impact on determinant selection in antiviral T cell responses. Such influences may provide the evolutionary pressure that maintains closely related MHC molecules in diverse human populations.