Background: Antigen-specific CD8 T cells following infection or immunization are typically assessed by measuring interferon-gamma production after stimulation with overlapping peptides spanning the region of interest. The effect of epitope location within such peptides is not known but may influence recognition.
Objective: To examine if peptides containing the appropriate C-terminal anchor amino acid residue would provide more sensitive detection of T cell responses. The impact was examined of epitope location within overlapping peptides on recognition of epitope-specific CD8 T cell responses.
Methods: C-terminal amino acid residues were analyzed in well-defined optimal epitopes for HIV, Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus and influenza and in peptide-binding motifs. Recognition of known epitopes within longer synthesized peptides by peripheral blood mononuclear cells or CD8 T cell lines was tested using interferon-gamma Elispot at various peptide concentrations.
Results: Only 9 of 20 amino acids served as the C-terminal anchor position in 96% of described optimal epitopes and in 95% of peptide-binding motifs. A CD8 T cell response to an epitope within a longer peptide is best detected when the epitope is situated at the C-terminal end of the longer peptide, both when using peptides designed to include the optimal epitope at every possible position and when comparing responses towards optimal epitopes and corresponding overlapping peptides in a larger group of subjects.
Conclusion: When using overlapping peptides to screen for CD8 T cell responses, more sensitive detection will be achieved using known C-terminal anchor amino acid residues at the C-terminus.