Background: Fifty-five percent of individuals with HLA-B*57:01 exposed to the antiretroviral drug abacavir develop a hypersensitivity reaction (HSR) that has been attributed to naïve T-cell responses to neo-antigen generated by the drug. Immunologically confirmed abacavir HSR can manifest clinically in less than 48 hours following first exposure suggesting that, at least in some cases, abacavir HSR is due to re-stimulation of a pre-existing memory T-cell population rather than priming of a high frequency naïve T-cell population.
Methods: To determine whether a pre-existing abacavir reactive memory T-cell population contributes to early abacavir HSR symptoms, we studied the abacavir specific naïve or memory T-cell response using HLA-B*57:01 positive HSR patients or healthy controls using ELISpot assay, intra-cellular cytokine staining and tetramer labelling.
Results: Abacavir reactive CD8+ T-cell responses were detected in vitro in one hundred percent of abacavir unexposed HLA-B*57:01 positive healthy donors. Abacavir-specific CD8+ T cells from such donors can be expanded from sorted memory, and sorted naïve, CD8+ T cells without need for autologous CD4+ T cells.
Conclusions: We propose that these pre-existing abacavir-reactive memory CD8+ T-cell responses must have been primed by earlier exposure to another foreign antigen and that these T cells cross-react with an abacavir-HLA-B*57:01-endogenous peptide ligand complex, in keeping with the model of heterologous immunity proposed in transplant rejection.