Profiling Human Cytomegalovirus-Specific T Cell Responses Reveals Novel Immunogenic Open Reading Frames

J Virol. 2021 Oct 13;95(21):e0094021. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00940-21. Epub 2021 Aug 11.


Despite the prevalence and medical significance of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infections, a systematic analysis of the targets of T cell recognition in humans that spans the entire genome and includes recently described potential novel open reading frames (ORFs) is not available. Here, we screened a library of epitopes predicted to bind HLA class II that spans over 350 different HCMV ORFs and includes ∼150 previously described and ∼200 recently described potential novel ORFs by using an ex vivo gamma interferon (IFN-γ) FluoroSpot assay. We identified 235 unique HCMV-specific epitopes derived from 100 ORFs, some previously described as immunodominant and others that were not previously described to be immunogenic. Of those, 41 belong to the set of recently reported novel ORFs, thus providing evidence that at least some of these are actually expressed in vivo in humans. These data reveal that the breadth of the human T cell response to HCMV is much greater than previously thought. The ORFs and epitopes identified will help elucidate how T cell immunity relates to HCMV pathogenesis and instruct ongoing HCMV vaccine research. IMPORTANCE To understand the crucial role of adaptive immunity in controlling cytomegalovirus infection and disease, we systematically analyzed the CMV "ORFeome" to identify new CMV epitopes targeted primarily by CD4 T cells in humans. Our study identified >200 new T cell epitopes derived from both canonical and novel ORFs, highlighting the substantial breadth of the anti-CMV T cell response and providing new targets for vaccine design.

Keywords: T cells; adaptive immunity; cytomegalovirus; epitope; human herpesviruses; immune response; infectious disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Cytomegalovirus / genetics*
  • Cytomegalovirus / immunology*
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / immunology*
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / virology
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte / genetics
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte / immunology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Open Reading Frames / immunology*


  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte
  • Interferon-gamma