We have investigated the reactivity to two human histocompatibility leukocyte antigen (HLA) A11-restricted cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) epitopes derived from amino acids 416-424 (IVTDFSVIK, designated IVT) and 399-408 (AVFDRKSVAK, designated AVF) of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) nuclear antigen (EBNA) 4. A strong predominance of CTL clones specific for the IVT epitope was demonstrated in polyclonal cultures generated by stimulation of lymphocytes from the EBV-seropositive donor BK with the autologous B95.8 virus-transformed lymphoblastoid cell line (LCL). This was not due to intrinsic differences of CTL efficiency since clones specific for the two epitopes lysed equally well A11-positive phytohemagglutinin blasts and LCLs pulsed with the relevant synthetic peptide. Irrespective of the endogenous levels of EBNA4 expression, untreated LCLs were lysed more efficiently by the IVT-specific effectors, suggesting that a higher density of A11-IVT complexes is presented at the cell surface. In accordance, 10-50-fold higher amounts of IVT peptides were found in high-performance liquid chromatography fractions of acid extracts corresponding to an abundance of about 350-12,800 IVT and 8-760 AVF molecules per cell. Peptide-mediated competition of CTL sensitization, transport assays in streptolysin-O permeabilized cells, and induction of A11 expression in the transporter associated with antigen presentation-deficient T2/A11 transfectant demonstrated that the IVT and AVF peptides bind with similar affinities to A11, are translocated with equal efficiency to the endoplasmic reticulum, and form complexes of comparable stability over a wide range of temperature and pH conditions. A rapid surface turnover of A11 molecules containing the AVF peptide was demonstrated in metabolically active T2/A11 cells corresponding to a half-life of approximately 3.5 as compared to approximately 2 h for molecules induced at 26 degrees C in the absence of exogenous peptides and >12 h for IVT-containing complexes. This difference in persistence is likely to determine the representation of individual class I-restricted CTL epitopes within the cell surface pool of molecules, and may be an important factor contributing to their immunogenicity.

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