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Keywords:

  • T cell epitopes;
  • HBsAg;
  • synthetic peptides;
  • HLA restriction

To study the regulation of the human cellular immune response to HBsAg we produced a series of HBsAg-specific T cell lines from good and poor responders to the hepatitis B vaccine. All T cell lines expressed CD4 on their membrane and could therefore be considered of the helper/inducer phenotype. The different HBsAg-specific T cell lines were restricted by HLA-DRB5*0101, DRB1*1201, -DRB1*0701, -DRB1*0301, -DPB1*0201, -DPB1*0402, and -DPB1*0901. In good responders to the hepatitis B vaccine different HLA molecules could act as restricting element. In poor responders the diversity of HLA class II restriction determinants was more limited. This leads us to conclude that the immune response to HBsAg is multispecific and polyclonal in good responders and paucispecific and oligoclonal in poor responders to the hepatitis B vaccine. By using a panel of synthetic peptides representing selected sequences of the HBsAg, the fine specificities of each of these T cell lines could be determined. Strikingly, the majority of the identified T cell epitopes was located in and around the first hydrophobic transmembranous region of the HBsAg. This was observed in T cell lines from good and poor vaccine responders, without distinction. The remarkable T cell immunogenicity of this region may reside in its richness in binding motifs for a variety of HLA class II determinants.