Cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) control the replication of human cytomegalovirus (CMV). Previous studies assessed the clonotypic composition of CTL specific for individual immunodominant peptides within a certain HLA context. Such an approach has inherent limitations and may not assess the true clonal CTL response in vivo. Here, the clonotypic composition of CMV-specific CTL was determined in HLA-A2, CMV-seropositive kidney transplant recipients and healthy blood donors after stimulation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells with either a pp65 whole-peptide pool or a single immunodominant peptide. Even after stimulation with the whole peptide pool, CMV-specific CTL remained monoclonal or oligoclonal. Regarding intraindividual variation, the CDR3 motifs of the dominant clones were identical to those observed in CTL generated by the single immunodominant peptide. Sequencing of the CDR3 regions demonstrated significant interindividual variation; however, structural homology was observed for immunodominant clonotypes in three individuals. In conclusion, the highly focused T cell receptor repertoire found after stimulation with either a single immunodominant peptide or a peptide pool demonstrates a pivotal role for immunodominant epitopes in the generation of a clonal repertoire. These results provide new insights into the regulation of CMV clonal dominance and may contribute to the design and monitoring of adoptive immunotherapy.
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