Several mechanisms exist to avoid or suppress inflammatory T-cell immune responses that could prove harmful to the host due to targeting self-antigens or commensal microbes. We hypothesized that these mechanisms could become evident when comparing the immunogenicity of a peptide from a pathogen or allergen with the conservation of its sequence in the human proteome or the healthy human microbiome. Indeed, performing such comparisons on large sets of validated T-cell epitopes, we found that epitopes that are similar with self-antigens above a certain threshold showed lower immunogenicity, presumably as a result of negative selection of T cells capable of recognizing such peptides. Moreover, we also found a reduced level of immune recognition for epitopes conserved in the commensal microbiome, presumably as a result of peripheral tolerance. These findings indicate that the existence (and potentially the polarization) of T-cell responses to a given epitope is influenced and to some extent predictable based on its similarity to self-antigens and commensal antigens.
Keywords: T-cell recognition; bioinformatics; epitopes.
© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.