Evidence for lack of cross-genotype protection of CD4+ T cell responses during chronic hepatitis C virus infection.
Harcourt GC., Lucas M., Godkin AJ., Kantzanou M., Phillips RE., Klenerman P.
CD4+ T lymphocyte responses are thought to play a major role in control of the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Few, however, have been mapped down to the level of peptide and HLA restriction. Furthermore, the ability of such T cells to respond to viruses which differ in genotype has not been addressed in detail. In most cases of persistent infection with HCV, CD4 proliferative responses are weak or absent. From a large cohort of persistently infected patients, we identified an individual with unusually robust and persistent responses in the face of chronic infection. We firstly mapped two peptide epitopes to regions of the nonstructural protein NS4 (aa1686-1705 and aa 1746-1765). However, in contrast to the genotype 1a derived antigens used for mapping, the infecting virus was identified as genotype 3a. Strikingly, the patient's CD4 response to these epitopes were specific only for the genotype 1a sequence, and did not recognize genotype 3a synthetic peptides. Serologic assays indicated that prior exposure to HCV of genotype 1 had occurred. This patient therefore maintains strong CD4 proliferative responses which are genotype specific and not cross-reactive. The apparent 'misdirection' of these nonprotective responses has important implications for the role of natural and vaccine induced CD4 responses in the face of variable viruses.