High steady-state frequencies of CMV-specific CD4+ memory T cells are maintained in CMV-exposed subjects, and these cells are thought to play a key role in the immunologic control of this permanent infection. However, the essential components of this response are poorly defined. Here, we report the use of a step-wise application of flow cytometric and molecular techniques to determine the number and size of the TCR Vβ-defined clonotypes within freshly obtained CMV-specific CD4+ memory T cell populations of four healthy, CMV-exposed human subjects. This analysis revealed a stable clonotypic hierarchy in which 1-3 dominant clonotypes are maintained in concert with more numerous subdominant and minor clonotypes. These dominant clonotypes accounted for 10-50% of the overall CMV response, and comprised from 0.3 to 4.0% of peripheral blood CD4+ T cells. Two subjects displayed immunodominant responses to single epitopes within the CMV matrix phosphoprotein pp65; these single epitope responses were mediated by a single dominant clonotype in one subject, and by multiple subdominant and minor clonotypes in the other. Thus, the CMV-specific CD4+ T cell memory repertoire in normal subjects is characterized by striking clonotypic dominance and the potential for epitope focusing, suggesting that primary responsibility for immunosurveillance against CMV reactivation rests with a handful of clones recognizing a limited array of CMV determinants. These data have important implications for the understanding of mechanisms by which a genetically stable chronic viral pathogen such as CMV is controlled, and offer possible insight into the failure of such control for a genetically flexible pathogen like HIV-1.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Immunology and Allergy