The human cytomegalovirus (CMV) immune evasion protein, UL40, shares an identical peptide sequence with that found in the leader sequence of many human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-C alleles and when complexed with HLA-E, can modulate NK cell functions via interactions with the CD94-NKG2 receptors. However the UL40-derived sequence can also be immunogenic, eliciting robust CD8+ T cell responses. In the setting of solid organ transplantation these T cells may not only be involved in antiviral immunity but also can potentially contribute to allograft rejection when the UL40 epitope is also present in allograft-encoded HLA. Here we assessed 15 bilateral lung transplant recipients for the presence of HLA-E-restricted UL40 specific T cells by tetramer staining of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). UL40-specific T cells were observed in 7 patients post-transplant however the magnitude of the response varied significantly between patients. Moreover, unlike healthy CMV seropositive individuals, longitudinal analyses revealed that proportions of such T cells fluctuated markedly. Nine patients experienced low-grade acute cellular rejection, of which 6 also demonstrated UL40-specific T cells. Furthermore, the presence of UL40-spe-cific CD8+ T cells in the blood was significantly associated with allograft dysfunction, which manifested as Bronchiolitis Obliterans Syndrome (BOS). Therefore, this study suggests that minor histocompatibility antigens presented by HLA-E can represent an additional risk factor following lung transplantation.
Sullivan, L. C., Westall, G. P., Widjaja, J. M. L., Mifsud, N. A., Nguyen, T. H. O., Meehan, A. C., Kotsimbos, T. C., & Brooks, A. G. (2015). The presence of HLA-E-Restricted, CMV-Specific CD8+ T Cells in the blood of lung transplant recipients correlates with chronic allograft rejection. PLoS ONE, 10(8), [e0135972]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0135972