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Broadly targeted CD8+ T cell responses restricted by major histocompatibility complex E

Science  12 Feb 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6274, pp. 714-720
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac9475

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An unconventional route to protection

One promising approach toward an HIV-1 vaccine involves infecting people with cytomegalovirus engineered to express proteins from HIV-1. This approach, which works by eliciting virus-killing CD8+ T cells, provides robust protection in nonhuman primate models. Hansen et al. have found out why this approach is so effective. Normally, peptide antigens presented by major histocompatibility complex-1a (MHC-Ia) activate CD8+ T cells. In vaccinated monkeys, however, CD8+ T cells reacted to peptide antigens presented by MHC-E molecules instead. Moreover, MHC-E could present a much wider range of peptides than MHC-Ia.

Science, this issue p. 714

Abstract

Major histocompatibility complex E (MHC-E) is a highly conserved, ubiquitously expressed, nonclassical MHC class Ib molecule with limited polymorphism that is primarily involved in the regulation of natural killer (NK) cells. We found that vaccinating rhesus macaques with rhesus cytomegalovirus vectors in which genes Rh157.5 and Rh157.4 are deleted results in MHC-E–restricted presentation of highly varied peptide epitopes to CD8αβ+ T cells, at ~4 distinct epitopes per 100 amino acids in all tested antigens. Computational structural analysis revealed that MHC-E provides heterogeneous chemical environments for diverse side-chain interactions within a stable, open binding groove. Because MHC-E is up-regulated to evade NK cell activity in cells infected with HIV, simian immunodeficiency virus, and other persistent viruses, MHC-E–restricted CD8+ T cell responses have the potential to exploit pathogen immune-evasion adaptations, a capability that might endow these unconventional responses with superior efficacy.

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