Early cytomegalovirus (CMV) reactivation remains a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplant (HCT) recipients. CMVPepVax is an investigational peptide vaccine designed to control CMV infection in HCT recipients seropositive for CMV by stimulating the expansion of T cell subsets that target the CMV tegument protein pp65. In a randomized Phase Ib pilot trial (ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01588015), two injections of CMVPepVax (at days 28 and 56 post-HCT) demonstrated safety, immunogenicity, increased relapse-free survival, and reduced CMV reactivation and use of antivirals. In the present study, we assessed the phenotypes and time courses of the pp65-specific CD8 T cell subsets that expanded in response to CMVPepVax vaccination. The functionality and antiviral role of CMV-specific T cells have been linked to immune reconstitution profiles characterized predominantly by differentiated effector memory T (TEM) subsets that have lost membrane expression of the costimulatory molecule CD28 and often reexpress the RA isoform of CD45 (TEMRA). Major histocompatibility complex class I pp65495-503 multimers, as well as CD28 and CD45 memory markers, were used to detect immune reconstitution in blood specimens from HCT recipients enrolled in the Phase Ib clinical trial. Specimens from the 10 (out of 18) vaccinated patients who had adequate (≥.2%) multimer binding to allow for memory analysis showed highly differentiated TEM and TEMRA phenotypes for pp65495-503-specific CD8 T cells during the first 100days post-transplantation. In particular, by day 70, during the period of highest risk for CMV reactivation, combined TEM and TEMRA phenotypes constituted a median of 90% of pp65495-503-specific CD8 T cells in these vaccinated patients. CMV viremia was not detectable in the patients who received CMVPepVax, although their pp65495-503-specific CD8 T cell profiles were strikingly similar to those observed in viremic patients who did not receive the vaccine. Collectively, our findings indicate that in the absence of clinically relevant viremia, CMVPepVax reconstituted significant levels of differentiated pp65495-503-specific CD8 TEMs early post-HCT. Our data indicate that the rapid reconstitution of CMV-specific T cells with marked levels of effector phenotypes may have been key to the favorable outcomes of the CMVPepVax clinical trial.
Keywords: Allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation; Cytomegalovirus; Cytomegalovirus memory T cell subsets; Cytomegalovirus vaccine; Immune monitoring.
Copyright © 2018 American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.