Virus-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) recognize virus-derived peptides presented by major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I molecules on virus-infected cells. Such peptides have been isolated from infected cells and were compared to synthetic peptides. We found previously the Kd- or Db-restricted natural influenza nucleoprotein peptides to coelute on reversed phase high performance liquid chromatography columns with certain peptidic by-products present in synthetic peptide preparations. Here we show by extensive biochemical and immunological comparison that the natural peptides in all respects behave as the surmised synthetic nonapeptides, and thus, must be identical to them. The absolute amounts of these natural peptides contained in infected cells could be determined to be between 220 and 540 copies by comparing with defined amounts of pure synthetic nonapeptides. The comparison of the natural Kd-restricted peptide with published synthetic peptides known to contain other Kd-restricted CTL epitopes suggested a new MHC allele-specific T cell epitope forecast method, based on the defined length of nine amino acid residues and on critical amino acid residues at the second and the last position.

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