Product(s) used in this publication: PepMix™ Peptide Pools
Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) virus is endemic in large parts of Europe and Central and Eastern Asia and causes more than 10,000 annual cases of neurological disease in humans. It is closely related to the mosquito-borne yellow fever, dengue, Japanese encephalitis, and West Nile viruses, and vaccination with an inactivated whole-virus vaccine can effectively prevent clinical disease. Neutralizing antibodies are directed to the viral envelope protein (E) and an accepted correlate of immunity. However, data on the specificities of CD4(+) T cells that recognize epitopes in the viral structural proteins and thus can provide direct help to the B cells producing E-specific antibodies are lacking. We therefore conducted a study on the CD4(+) T cell response against the virion proteins in vaccinated people in comparison to TBE patients. The data obtained with overlapping peptides in interleukin-2 (IL-2) enzyme-linked immunosorbent spot (ELISpot) assays were analyzed in relation to the three-dimensional structures of the capsid (C) and E proteins as well as to epitope predictions based on major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II peptide affinities. In the C protein, peptides corresponding to two out of four alpha helices dominated the response in both vaccinees and patients, whereas in the E protein concordance of immunodominance was restricted to peptides of a single domain (domain III). Epitope predictions were much better for C than for E and were especially erroneous for the transmembrane regions. Our data provide evidence for a strong impact of protein structural features that influence peptide processing, contributing to the discrepancies observed between experimentally determined and computer-predicted CD4(+) T cell epitopes. Importance: Tick-borne encephalitis virus is endemic in large parts of Europe and Asia and causes more than 10,000 annual cases of neurological disease in humans. It is closely related to yellow fever, dengue, Japanese encephalitis, and West Nile viruses, and vaccination with an inactivated vaccine can effectively prevent disease. Both vaccination and natural infection induce the formation of antibodies to a viral surface protein that neutralize the infectivity of the virus and mediate protection. B lymphocytes synthesizing these antibodies require help from other lymphocytes (helper T cells) which recognize small peptides derived from proteins contained in the viral particle. Which of these peptides dominate immune responses to vaccination and infection, however, was unknown. In our study we demonstrate which parts of the proteins contribute most strongly to the helper T cell response, highlight specific weaknesses of currently available approaches for their prediction, and demonstrate similarities and differences between vaccination and infection.
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