Common chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) show a disease progression similar to that observed for human patients. Although most infected animals develop a chronic hepatitis, virus persistence is associated with an ongoing immune response, for which the beneficial or detrimental effects are uncertain. Lines of virus-specific cytotoxic CD8+ T lymphocytes (CTL) have been previously established from liver biopsies of two common chimpanzees chronically infected with HCV-1. The viral epitopes recognized by six lines of CTL have been defined using synthetic peptides and shown to consist of 8 to 9-residue peptides derived from various viral proteins. Five of the epitopes derive from sequences that vary among strains of HCV. The majority of the corresponding variant epitopes from different HCV strains were either recognized less efficiently or not at all by the CTL, suggesting their response may have limited potential for controlling replication of HCV variants. Complementary DNAs encoding class I alleles of the two common chimpanzees, Patr-A, -B, and -C were cloned, sequenced, and transfected individually into a class I-deficient human cell line. Analysis of peptide presentation by the class I transfectants to CTL identified the Patr class I allotypes that present the six epitopes defined here and an additional epitope defined previously. The assignment of epitopes to class I allotypes based upon analysis of the transfected cells correlates precisely with the segregation of antigen-presenting function within a panel of common chimpanzee cell lines and the expression of class I heavy chains as defined by isoelectric focusing. Five of the HCV-1 epitopes are presented by Patr-B allotypes, two epitopes are presented by a Patr-A allotype, and none is presented by Patr-C allotypes.

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