Journal of immunology (Baltimore, Md. : 1950)

Superimposed epitopes restricted by the same HLA molecule drive distinct HIV-specific CD8+ T cell repertoires.

PMID 24899498


Superimposed epitopes, in which a shorter epitope is embedded within a longer one, can be presented by the same HLA class I molecule. CD8(+) CTL responses against such epitopes and the contribution of this phenomenon to immune control are poorly characterized. In this study, we examined HLA-A*24:02-restricted CTLs specific for the superimposed HIV Nef epitopes RYPLTFGWCF (RF10) and RYPLTFGW (RW8). Unexpectedly, RF10-specific and RW8-specific CTLs from HIV-1-infected HLA-A*24:02+ individuals had no overlapping Ag reactivity or clonotypic compositions. Single-cell TCR sequence analyses demonstrated that RF10-specific T cells had a more diverse TCR repertoire than did RW8-specific T cells. Furthermore, RF10-specific CTLs presented a higher Ag sensitivity and HIV suppressive capacity compared with RW8-specific CTLs. Crystallographic analyses revealed important structural differences between RF10- and RW8-HLA-A*24:02 complexes as well, with featured and featureless conformations, respectively, providing an explanation for the induction of distinct T cell responses against these epitopes. The present study shows that a single viral sequence containing superimposed epitopes restricted by the same HLA molecule could elicit distinct CD8+ T cell responses, therefore enhancing the control of HIV replication. This study also showed that a featured epitope (e.g., RF10) could drive the induction of T cells with high TCR diversity and affinity.