Cytotoxic T lymphocyte lysis of HTLV-1 infected cells is limited by weak HBZ protein expression, but non-specifically enhanced on induction of Tax expression.

PMID 25499803


Immunogenetic evidence indicates that cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) specific for the weak CTL antigen HBZ limit HTLV-1 proviral load in vivo, whereas there is no clear relationship between the proviral load and the frequency of CTLs specific for the immunodominant antigen Tax. In vivo, circulating HTLV-1-infected cells express HBZ mRNA in contrast, Tax expression is typically low or undetectable. To elucidate the virus-suppressing potential of CTLs targeting HBZ, we compared the ability of HBZ- and Tax-specific CTLs to lyse naturally-infected cells, by co-incubating HBZ- and Tax-specific CTL clones with primary CD4(+) T cells from HLA-matched HTLV-1-infected donors. We quantified lysis of infected cells, and tested whether specific virus-induced host cell surface molecules determine the susceptibility of infected cells to CTL-mediated lysis. Primary infected cells upregulated HLA-A*02, ICAM-1, Fas and TRAIL-R1/2 in concert with Tax expression, forming efficient targets for both HTLV-1-specific CTLs and CTLs specific for an unrelated virus. We detected expression of HBZ mRNA (spliced isoform) in both Tax-expressing and non-expressing infected cells, and the HBZ26-34 epitope was processed and presented by cells transfected with an HBZ expression plasmid. However, when coincubated with primary cells, a high-avidity HBZ-specific CTL clone killed significantly fewer infected cells than were killed by a Tax-specific CTL clone. Finally, incubation with Tax- or HBZ-specific CTLs resulted in a significant decrease in the frequency of cells expressing high levels of HLA-A*02. HTLV-1 gene expression in primary CD4(+) T cells non-specifically increases susceptibility to CTL lysis. Despite the presence of HBZ spliced-isoform mRNA, HBZ epitope presentation by primary cells is significantly less efficient than that of Tax.