Protective capacity and epitope specificity of CD8+ T cells responding to lethal West Nile virus infection

Authors

  • James D. Brien,

    1. Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute and the Oregon National Primate Research Center, Oregon Health & Science University, Beaverton, OR, USA
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  • Jennifer L. Uhrlaub,

    1. Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute and the Oregon National Primate Research Center, Oregon Health & Science University, Beaverton, OR, USA
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  • Janko Nikolich-Žugich

    Corresponding author
    1. Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute and the Oregon National Primate Research Center, Oregon Health & Science University, Beaverton, OR, USA
    • Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute, Oregon Health & Science University West Campus, 505 NW 185th Avenue, Beaverton, OR 97006, USA, Fax: +1-503-418-2764
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Abstract

West Nile virus (WNV) is a small, positive-strand RNA virus belonging to the Flaviviridae genus, which causes lethal encephalitis in a subset of infected birds and mammals. In humans, WNV exhibits pronounced age-related morbidity and mortality, but the basis of this effect is unclear, and the molecular and cellular parameters of the host-WNV infection are just beginning to be elucidated. Indeed, numerous mechanisms were implicated in protection in vivo against WNV (IFN-I and IFN-γ, antibody, C’, CD8 and CD4 T cells), but the individual importance of each one of these remains unclear. Here, we show that transfer of highly enriched naïve CD8+ T cells protects the majority of alymphoid mice against lethal WNV infection. To substantiate and expand this finding, we defined the peptide specificity of the CD8 response in H-2b mice and used a panel of identified peptides to map one dominant (NS4b 2248–2256) and several subdominant epitopes. The hierarchy of these epitopes was stably maintained in the memory responses. Most importantly, CTL lines directed against these peptides conferred protection against lethal WNV infection in direct proportion to the epitope immunodominance. These results provide a springboard for future characterization of T cell responses against WNV and demonstrate, for the first time, that CD8 T cells can single-handedly protect from this disease.

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