A natural polymorphism of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in the esxH gene disrupts immunodomination by the TB10.4-specific CD8 T cell response

PLoS Pathog. 2020 Oct 19;16(10):e1009000. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1009000. eCollection 2020 Oct.


CD8 T cells provide limited protection against Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) infection in the mouse model. As Mtb causes chronic infection in mice and humans, we hypothesize that Mtb impairs T cell responses as an immune evasion strategy. TB10.4 is an immunodominant antigen in people, nonhuman primates, and mice, which is encoded by the esxH gene. In C57BL/6 mice, 30-50% of pulmonary CD8 T cells recognize the TB10.44-11 epitope. However, TB10.4-specific CD8 T cells fail to recognize Mtb-infected macrophages. We speculate that Mtb elicits immunodominant CD8 T cell responses to antigens that are inefficiently presented by infected cells, thereby focusing CD8 T cells on nonprotective antigens. Here, we leverage naturally occurring polymorphisms in esxH, which frequently occur in lineage 1 strains, to test this "decoy hypothesis". Using the clinical isolate 667, which contains an EsxHA10T polymorphism, we observe a drastic change in the hierarchy of CD8 T cells. Using isogenic Erd.EsxHA10T and Erd.EsxHWT strains, we prove that this polymorphism alters the hierarchy of immunodominant CD8 T cell responses. Our data are best explained by immunodomination, a mechanism by which competition for APC leads to dominant responses suppressing subdominant responses. These results were surprising as the variant epitope can bind to H2-Kb and is recognized by TB10.4-specific CD8 T cells. The dramatic change in TB10.4-specific CD8 responses resulted from increased proteolytic degradation of A10T variant, which destroyed the TB10.44-11epitope. Importantly, this polymorphism affected T cell priming and recognition of infected cells. These data support a model in which nonprotective CD8 T cells become immunodominant and suppress subdominant responses. Thus, polymorphisms between clinical Mtb strains, and BCG or H37Rv sequence-based vaccines could lead to a mismatch between T cells that are primed by vaccines and the epitopes presented by infected cells. Reprograming host immune responses should be considered in the future design of vaccines.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, Bacterial / genetics
  • Antigens, Bacterial / immunology*
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte / immunology
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / genetics*
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / immunology*
  • Tuberculosis / immunology


  • Antigens, Bacterial
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte
  • TB10.4 antigen, Mycobacterium tuberculosis