Adoptive transfer of CMV-specific T cells derived from adult CMV-seropositive (CMVpos) donors can effectively restore antiviral immunity after stem cell transplantation. However due to the absence of CMV antigen-specific memory T cells in cord blood (CB) and adult CMV-seronegative (CMVneg) donors, different culture systems are required to generate virus-specific T cells for adoptive transfer. With a novel protocol we have generated CMVpp65-specific T cells from CB and found that 15/15 CB T cell lines recognized atypical epitopes of pp65. We then explored the generation of CMV-specific CTL from CMVneg donors using a GMP-compliant methodology and studied the epitopes recognized. CD45RA+ naive T cells were selected from the peripheral blood of CMVneg donors and stimulated with pp65-Pepmix-pulsed dendritic cells with supplemented with IL-7, IL-12, and IL-15. For subsequent stimulations T cells were stimulated with pp65-Pepmix-pulsed EBV-LCL and IL-15 or IL-2. CMVpp65-specific T cells (CMV-CTL) expanded from 8 of 11 CMVneg donors were primarily CD8+ T cells (mean 71%). Naïve donor CMV-CTL secreted IFN- γ in response to pp65 peptides (mean 224; range: 38–611 SFC/1×105 cells) compared to irrelevant peptides (mean 12;Range 3–37) as measured in Elispot assays and lysed pp65-pulsed target cells (mean :48; range :15–70%) but not negative controls (mean 22; range 4–40%). These CMV-CTL derived from naive (but not memory) T cells recognized only novel and atypical pp65 epitopes (such as the HLA-A2-restricted epitopes LQTGIHVRV and MLNIPSINV) but not the typical HLA-A2-restricted epitope NLVPMVATV as confirmed by ELISPOT and multimer analysis. These results are similar to CB-derived CTL. Analysis of the avidity of naïve donor CTL specific for the atypical CMV epitopes revealed that the 1/2 maximum effective concentration was similar (mean: 600 pM) to CMVpos CTL recognizing typical epitopes (mean: 300 pM), and more avid than CMVpos CTL recognizing atypical epitopes (mean: 4 nM), highlighting the difference between naïve-derived and memory-derived CTL. TCR sequencing performed on T cells specific for typical (CMVpos) and atypical (CMVpos, CMVneg, and CB) epitopes revealed that CMVpos donor CMV-CTL recognizing typical epitopes were markedly more oligoclonal than CTL recognizing the atypical epitopes derived from CB, CMVpos, or CMVneg donors. To address the concern that atypical epitopes might not be naturally presented by CMV-infected cells and therefore not recognized by in vitro generated CTL, we tested whether CMV CTL (from CB, CMVpos, CMVneg) generated using CMV AD169-infected fibroblasts or CMV VR1814-infected DCs would recognize the same epitopes. As before, CMVpos CMV CTL recognized typical epitopes of pp65 while CB and CMVneg CMV CTL recognized only atypical epitopes, suggesting that the epitopes are naturally processed and presented by APCs, and that the atypical epitopes observed are not an artifact of using exogenous antigens like the pp65 Pepmix. Thus, despite their unusual repertoire, T cells derived from CB or CMVneg donors are likely to control CMV infection. These results reveal major differences in the naïve and memory CMV specific T cell repertoire that merits further exploration. Nevertheless, we demonstrated that atypical epitopes are naturally presented by CMV infected cells and we are now evaluating the clinical efficacy of these CTL in recipients of CBT. These studies should determine if naive T cells primed in vitro are able to persist and establish memory and virus protection in vivo.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.