Identification of a highly promiscuous and an HLA allele-specific T-cell epitope in the birch major allergen Bet v 1: HLA restriction, epitope mapping and TCR sequence comparisons


van Neerven ALK Abelló, Bøge Alle 6–8, 2970, Hørsholm, Denmark.



Allergen-specific CD4+ T cells play an important regulatory role in atopic allergy.


To investigate the human leucocyte antigen (HLA) restriction and T-cell receptor (TCR) usage of allergen-specific T-cell clones (TCCs) that react with defined epitopes of Bet v 1, the major birch pollen allergen.


Five Bet v 1-specific TCCs derived from two birch pollen-allergic individuals and specific for Bet v 1, were epitope-mapped with overlapping synthetic peptides. In addition, HLA-restriction and TCR CDR3 sequences were determined.


Three TCCs reacted with a Bet v 1 peptide containing amino acid residues 21–33 (BP21), the other two TCCs reacted with a minimal peptide comprising residues 37–45 (BP37). Studies using neutralizing anti-HLA-monoclonal antibodies and HLA-typed APCs showed that the BP37-specific TCCs were resticted by a HLA-DQA1*0301/DQB1*0603 heterodimer. In contrast, BP21 was recognized in a highly promiscuous manner. TCCs recognizing this sequence were restricted by HLA-DPB1*0201, a HLA-DQA1*0201/DQB1*0201 heterodimer, or HLA-DRB3*0101. Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction with primers for all known TCRAV and TCRBV gene segments, followed by CDR3 region sequencing, revealed the usage of five different TCRAV and four different TCRBV gene segments by the TCCs, as well as diversity in the joining region. All BP21-specific TCCs contained a negatively charged residue in their CDR3α regions, the CDR3β regions showed a high concentration of polar and OH-group bearing residues. BP37-specific TCCs shared the amino acid combination LY in the middle of their CDR3α regions, the CDR3β regions showed high concentration of OH-group bearing or charged residues.


This study shows the existence of a highly promiscuous T-cell epitope in Bet v 1. The presence of additional T-cell epitopes in Bet v 1 may, however, hamper the clinical applicability of the epitope. Likewise, the diversity in TCR usage by T cells recognizing the epitope does not support the development of TCR-directed immunotherapy for birch pollen allergy.