Phenotypic analysis of human CD4<sup>+</sup> T cells specific for immediate early 63 protein of varicella-zoster virus
Open reading frame 63 of varicella-zoster Virus (VZV) encodes an immediate early (IE) phosphoprotein (IE63) that is believed to be important for viral infectivity and establishing latency. Evidence suggests that VZV-specific T cells are crucial in the control of viral replication; however, data addressing the existence of IE63 protein-specific CD4+ T cells are limited. Using IFN-γ immunosorbent assays, we identified high frequencies of responses to overlapping peptides spanning the IE63 protein both ex vivo and after in vitro restimulation in healthy VZV-seropositive individuals. We identified a commonly recognised epitope, restricted by HLA-DRB1*1501, which was naturally processed and presented by keratinocytes. We proceeded to investigate the frequency and phenotype of the epitope-specific CD4+ T cells using HLA class II tetrameric complexes. Epitope-specific CD4+ T cells were detectable ex vivo and showed a mixed central and effector-memory differentiation phenotype, with a significant proportion showing evidence of recent activation and rapid effector function. In summary these data implicate persistent low-level or recurrent VZV antigen exposure in healthy immune donors and are compatible with a role for IE63-specific CD4+ T cells in the control of viral reactivation. © 2007 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim.