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1.  Identification and HLA-Tetramer-Validation of Human CD4+ and CD8+ T Cell Responses against HCMV Proteins IE1 and IE2 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e94892.
Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is an important human pathogen. It is a leading cause of congenital infection and a leading infectious threat to recipients of solid organ transplants as well as of allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplants. Moreover, it has recently been suggested that HCMV may promote tumor development. Both CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses are important for long-term control of the virus, and adoptive transfer of HCMV-specific T cells has led to protection from reactivation and HCMV disease. Identification of HCMV-specific T cell epitopes has primarily focused on CD8+ T cell responses against the pp65 phosphoprotein. In this study, we have focused on CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses against the immediate early 1 and 2 proteins (IE1 and IE2). Using overlapping peptides spanning the entire IE1 and IE2 sequences, peripheral blood mononuclear cells from 16 healthy, HLA-typed, donors were screened by ex vivo IFN-γ ELISpot and in vitro intracellular cytokine secretion assays. The specificities of CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses were identified and validated by HLA class II and I tetramers, respectively. Eighty-one CD4+ and 44 CD8+ T cell responses were identified representing at least seven different CD4 epitopes and 14 CD8 epitopes restricted by seven and 11 different HLA class II and I molecules, respectively, in total covering 91 and 98% of the Caucasian population, respectively. Presented in the context of several different HLA class II molecules, two epitope areas in IE1 and IE2 were recognized in about half of the analyzed donors. These data may be used to design a versatile anti-HCMV vaccine and/or immunotherapy strategy.
PMCID: PMC3997423  PMID: 24760079
2.  Correction: MHC Class II Tetramers Made from Isolated Recombinant α and β Chains Refolded with Affinity-Tagged Peptides 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):10.1371/annotation/9375e7cb-92f1-4a83-adaf-c11f284ceee0.
PMCID: PMC3859873
3.  Correction: MHC Class II Tetramers Made from Isolated Recombinant α and β Chains Refolded with Affinity-Tagged Peptides 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):10.1371/annotation/97cabee9-2a2a-4bd6-a417-a2075e56a8d4.
PMCID: PMC3783602
4.  MHC Class II Tetramers Made from Isolated Recombinant α and β Chains Refolded with Affinity-Tagged Peptides 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e73648.
Targeting CD4+ T cells through their unique antigen-specific, MHC class II-restricted T cell receptor makes MHC class II tetramers an attractive strategy to identify, validate and manipulate these cells at the single cell level. Currently, generating class II tetramers is a specialized undertaking effectively limiting their use and emphasizing the need for improved methods of production. Using class II chains expressed individually in E. coli as versatile recombinant reagents, we have previously generated peptide-MHC class II monomers, but failed to generate functional class II tetramers. Adding a monomer purification principle based upon affinity-tagged peptides, we here provide a robust method to produce class II tetramers and demonstrate staining of antigen-specific CD4+ T cells. We also provide evidence that both MHC class II and T cell receptor molecules largely accept affinity-tagged peptides. As a general approach to class II tetramer generation, this method should support rational CD4+ T cell epitope discovery as well as enable specific monitoring and manipulation of CD4+ T cell responses.
PMCID: PMC3759463  PMID: 24023895
5.  Chaperone-assisted thermostability engineering of a soluble T cell receptor using phage display 
Scientific Reports  2013;3:1162.
We here report a novel phage display selection strategy enabling fast and easy selection of thermostabilized proteins. The approach is illustrated with stabilization of an aggregation-prone soluble single chain T cell receptor (scTCR) characteristic of the murine MOPC315 myeloma model. Random mutation scTCR phage libraries were prepared in E. coli over-expressing the periplasmic chaperone FkpA, and such over-expression during library preparation proved crucial for successful downstream selection. The thermostabilized scTCRmut variants selected were produced in high yields and isolated as monomers. Thus, the purified scTCRs could be studied with regard to specificity and equilibrium binding kinetics to pMHC using surface plasmon resonance (SPR). The results demonstrate a difference in affinity for pMHCs that display germ line or tumor-specific peptides which explains the tumor-specific reactivity of the TCR. This FkpA-assisted thermostabilization strategy extends the utility of recombinant TCRs and furthermore, may be of general use for efficient evolution of proteins.
PMCID: PMC3557450  PMID: 23362461
6.  NetMHCIIpan-2.0 - Improved pan-specific HLA-DR predictions using a novel concurrent alignment and weight optimization training procedure 
Immunome Research  2010;6:9.
Binding of peptides to Major Histocompatibility class II (MHC-II) molecules play a central role in governing responses of the adaptive immune system. MHC-II molecules sample peptides from the extracellular space allowing the immune system to detect the presence of foreign microbes from this compartment. Predicting which peptides bind to an MHC-II molecule is therefore of pivotal importance for understanding the immune response and its effect on host-pathogen interactions. The experimental cost associated with characterizing the binding motif of an MHC-II molecule is significant and large efforts have therefore been placed in developing accurate computer methods capable of predicting this binding event. Prediction of peptide binding to MHC-II is complicated by the open binding cleft of the MHC-II molecule, allowing binding of peptides extending out of the binding groove. Moreover, the genes encoding the MHC molecules are immensely diverse leading to a large set of different MHC molecules each potentially binding a unique set of peptides. Characterizing each MHC-II molecule using peptide-screening binding assays is hence not a viable option.
Here, we present an MHC-II binding prediction algorithm aiming at dealing with these challenges. The method is a pan-specific version of the earlier published allele-specific NN-align algorithm and does not require any pre-alignment of the input data. This allows the method to benefit also from information from alleles covered by limited binding data. The method is evaluated on a large and diverse set of benchmark data, and is shown to significantly out-perform state-of-the-art MHC-II prediction methods. In particular, the method is found to boost the performance for alleles characterized by limited binding data where conventional allele-specific methods tend to achieve poor prediction accuracy.
The method thus shows great potential for efficient boosting the accuracy of MHC-II binding prediction, as accurate predictions can be obtained for novel alleles at highly reduced experimental costs. Pan-specific binding predictions can be obtained for all alleles with know protein sequence and the method can benefit by including data in the training from alleles even where only few binders are known. The method and benchmark data are available at
PMCID: PMC2994798  PMID: 21073747
7.  HLA Class I Binding 9mer Peptides from Influenza A Virus Induce CD4+ T Cell Responses 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(5):e10533.
Identification of human leukocyte antigen class I (HLA-I) restricted cytotoxic T cell (CTL) epitopes from influenza virus is of importance for the development of new effective peptide-based vaccines.
Methodology/Principal Findings
In the present work, bioinformatics was used to predict 9mer peptides derived from available influenza A viral proteins with binding affinity for at least one of the 12 HLA-I supertypes. The predicted peptides were then selected in a way that ensured maximal coverage of the available influenza A strains. One hundred and thirty one peptides were synthesized and their binding affinities for the HLA-I supertypes were measured in a biochemical assay. Influenza-specific T cell responses towards the peptides were quantified using IFNγ ELISPOT assays with peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from adult healthy HLA-I typed donors as responder cells. Of the 131 peptides, 21 were found to induce T cell responses in 19 donors. In the ELISPOT assay, five peptides induced responses that could be totally blocked by the pan-specific anti-HLA-I antibody W6/32, whereas 15 peptides induced responses that could be completely blocked in the presence of the pan-specific anti-HLA class II (HLA-II) antibody IVA12. Blocking of HLA-II subtype reactivity revealed that 8 and 6 peptide responses were blocked by anti-HLA-DR and -DP antibodies, respectively. Peptide reactivity of PBMC depleted of CD4+ or CD8+ T cells prior to the ELISPOT culture revealed that effectors are either CD4+ (the majority of reactivities) or CD8+ T cells, never a mixture of these subsets. Three of the peptides, recognized by CD4+ T cells showed binding to recombinant DRA1*0101/DRB1*0401 or DRA1*0101/DRB5*0101 molecules in a recently developed biochemical assay.
HLA-I binding 9mer influenza virus-derived peptides induce in many cases CD4+ T cell responses restricted by HLA-II molecules.
PMCID: PMC2866539  PMID: 20479886
8.  Functional recombinant MHC class II molecules and high-throughput peptide-binding assays 
Immunome Research  2009;5:2.
Molecules of the class II major histocompability complex (MHC-II) specifically bind and present exogenously derived peptide epitopes to CD4+ T helper cells. The extreme polymorphism of the MHC-II hampers the complete analysis of peptide binding. It is also a significant hurdle in the generation of MHC-II molecules as reagents to study and manipulate specific T helper cell responses. Methods to generate functional MHC-II molecules recombinantly, and measure their interaction with peptides, would be highly desirable; however, no consensus methodology has yet emerged.
We generated α and β MHC-II chain constructs, where the membrane-spanning regions were replaced by dimerization motifs, and the C-terminal of the β chains was fused to a biotinylation signal peptide (BSP) allowing for in vivo biotinylation. These chains were produced separately as inclusion bodies in E. coli , extracted into urea, and purified under denaturing and non-reducing conditions using conventional column chromatography. Subsequently, diluting the two chains into a folding reaction with appropriate peptide resulted in efficient peptide-MHC-II complex formation. Several different formats of peptide-binding assay were developed including a homogeneous, non-radioactive, high-throughput (HTS) binding assay. Binding isotherms were generated allowing the affinities of interaction to be determined. The affinities of the best binders were found to be in the low nanomolar range. Recombinant MHC-II molecules and accompanying HTS peptide-binding assay were successfully developed for nine different MHC-II molecules including the DPA1*0103/DPB1*0401 (DP401) and DQA1*0501/DQB1*0201, where both α and β chains are polymorphic, illustrating the advantages of producing the two chains separately.
We have successfully developed versatile MHC-II resources, which may assist in the generation of MHC class II -wide reagents, data, and tools.
PMCID: PMC2690590  PMID: 19416502
9.  Quantitative Predictions of Peptide Binding to Any HLA-DR Molecule of Known Sequence: NetMHCIIpan 
PLoS Computational Biology  2008;4(7):e1000107.
CD4 positive T helper cells control many aspects of specific immunity. These cells are specific for peptides derived from protein antigens and presented by molecules of the extremely polymorphic major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II system. The identification of peptides that bind to MHC class II molecules is therefore of pivotal importance for rational discovery of immune epitopes. HLA-DR is a prominent example of a human MHC class II. Here, we present a method, NetMHCIIpan, that allows for pan-specific predictions of peptide binding to any HLA-DR molecule of known sequence. The method is derived from a large compilation of quantitative HLA-DR binding events covering 14 of the more than 500 known HLA-DR alleles. Taking both peptide and HLA sequence information into account, the method can generalize and predict peptide binding also for HLA-DR molecules where experimental data is absent. Validation of the method includes identification of endogenously derived HLA class II ligands, cross-validation, leave-one-molecule-out, and binding motif identification for hitherto uncharacterized HLA-DR molecules. The validation shows that the method can successfully predict binding for HLA-DR molecules—even in the absence of specific data for the particular molecule in question. Moreover, when compared to TEPITOPE, currently the only other publicly available prediction method aiming at providing broad HLA-DR allelic coverage, NetMHCIIpan performs equivalently for alleles included in the training of TEPITOPE while outperforming TEPITOPE on novel alleles. We propose that the method can be used to identify those hitherto uncharacterized alleles, which should be addressed experimentally in future updates of the method to cover the polymorphism of HLA-DR most efficiently. We thus conclude that the presented method meets the challenge of keeping up with the MHC polymorphism discovery rate and that it can be used to sample the MHC “space,” enabling a highly efficient iterative process for improving MHC class II binding predictions.
Author Summary
CD4 positive T helper cells provide essential help for stimulation of both cellular and humoral immune reactions. T helper cells recognize peptides presented by molecules of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II system. HLA-DR is a prominent example of a human MHC class II locus. The HLA molecules are extremely polymorphic, and more than 500 different HLA-DR protein sequences are known today. Each HLA-DR molecule potentially binds a unique set of antigenic peptides, and experimental characterization of the binding specificity for each molecule would be an immense and highly costly task. Only a very limited set of MHC molecules has been characterized experimentally. We have demonstrated earlier that it is possible to derive accurate predictions for MHC class I proteins by interpolating information from neighboring molecules. It is not straightforward to take a similar approach to derive pan-specific HLA-DR class II predictions because the HLA class II molecules can bind peptides of very different lengths. Here, we nonetheless show that this is indeed possible. We develop an HLA-DR pan-specific method that allows for prediction of binding to any HLA-DR molecule of known sequence—even in the absence of specific data for the particular molecule in question.
PMCID: PMC2430535  PMID: 18604266
10.  One-Pot, Mix-and-Read Peptide-MHC Tetramers 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(2):e1678.
Cytotoxic T Lymphocytes (CTL) recognize complexes of peptide ligands and Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) class I molecules presented at the surface of Antigen Presenting Cells (APC). Detection and isolation of CTL's are of importance for research on CTL immunity, and development of vaccines and adoptive immune therapy. Peptide-MHC tetramers have become important reagents for detection and enumeration of specific CTL's. Conventional peptide-MHC-tetramer production involves recombinant MHC production, in vitro refolding, biotinylation and tetramerization; each step followed by various biochemical steps such as chromatographic purification, concentration etc. Such cumbersome production protocols have limited dissemination and restricted availability of peptide-MHC tetramers effectively precluding large-scale screening strategies involving many different peptide-MHC tetramers.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We have developed an approach whereby any given tetramer specificity can be produced within 2 days with very limited effort and hands-on time. The strategy is based on the isolation of correctly oxidized, in vivo biotinylated recombinant MHC I heavy chain (HC). Such biotinylated MHC I HC molecules can be refolded in vitro, tetramerized with streptavidin, and used for specific T cell staining-all in a one-pot reaction without any intervening purification steps.
We have developed an efficient “one-pot, mix-and-read” strategy for peptide-MHC tetramer generation, and demonstrated specific T cell straining comparable to a commercially available MHC-tetramer. Here, seven peptide-MHC tetramers representing four different human MHC (HLA) class I proteins have been generated. The technique should be readily extendable to any binding peptide and pre-biotinylated MHC (at this time we have over 40 different pre-biotinylated HLA proteins). It is simple, robust, and versatile technique with a very broad application potential as it can be adapted both to small- and large-scale production of one or many different peptide-MHC tetramers for T cell isolation, or epitope screening.
PMCID: PMC2244712  PMID: 18301755
11.  NetMHCpan, a Method for Quantitative Predictions of Peptide Binding to Any HLA-A and -B Locus Protein of Known Sequence 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(8):e796.
Binding of peptides to Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) molecules is the single most selective step in the recognition of pathogens by the cellular immune system. The human MHC class I system (HLA-I) is extremely polymorphic. The number of registered HLA-I molecules has now surpassed 1500. Characterizing the specificity of each separately would be a major undertaking.
Principal Findings
Here, we have drawn on a large database of known peptide-HLA-I interactions to develop a bioinformatics method, which takes both peptide and HLA sequence information into account, and generates quantitative predictions of the affinity of any peptide-HLA-I interaction. Prospective experimental validation of peptides predicted to bind to previously untested HLA-I molecules, cross-validation, and retrospective prediction of known HIV immune epitopes and endogenous presented peptides, all successfully validate this method. We further demonstrate that the method can be applied to perform a clustering analysis of MHC specificities and suggest using this clustering to select particularly informative novel MHC molecules for future biochemical and functional analysis.
Encompassing all HLA molecules, this high-throughput computational method lends itself to epitope searches that are not only genome- and pathogen-wide, but also HLA-wide. Thus, it offers a truly global analysis of immune responses supporting rational development of vaccines and immunotherapy. It also promises to provide new basic insights into HLA structure-function relationships. The method is available at
PMCID: PMC1949492  PMID: 17726526

Results 1-11 (11)