By necessity, human liver transplantation is performed across HLA barriers. As a result, intracellular infection of the allograft presents a unique immunologic challenge for the recipient's immune system. In this study, we describe the presence of HLA-A2-restricted, hepatitis C virus (HCV)-specific CD8+ T cells in liver transplant recipients in whom the allograft is HLA-A2 positive and the recipient is HLA-A2 negative. These memory-effector T cells are recipient derived and recognize HCV peptide uniquely in the context of HLA-A2. Furthermore, these cells were absent before the transplant, suggesting that the allograft is capable of selectively expanding naive CD8+ T cells. The in vitro specificity to donor HLA allele-restricted CD8+ T cells suggests that these cells may function to control HCV spread in the allograft.
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