Immunopeptidomic analysis of influenza A virus infected human tissues identifies internal proteins as a rich source of HLA ligands


CD8+ and CD4+ T cells provide cell-mediated cross-protection against multiple influenza strains by recognising epitopes bound as peptides to human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I and -II molecules respectively. Two challenges in identifying the immunodominant epitopes needed to generate a universal T cell influenza vaccine are: A lack of cell models susceptible to influenza infection which present population-prevalent HLA allotypes, and an absence of a reliable in-vitro method of identifying class II HLA peptides. Here we present a mass spectrometry-based proteomics strategy for identifying viral peptides derived from the A/H3N2/X31 and A/H3N2/Wisconsin/67/2005 strains of influenza. We compared the HLA-I and -II immunopeptidomes presented by ex-vivo influenza challenged human lung tissues. We then compared these with directly infected immortalised macrophage-like cell line (THP1) and primary dendritic cells fed apoptotic influenza-infected respiratory epithelial cells. In each of the three experimental conditions we identified novel influenza class I and II HLA peptides with motifs specific for the host allotype. Ex-vivo infected lung tissues yielded few class-II HLA peptides despite significant numbers of alveolar macrophages, including directly infected ones, present within the tissues. THP1 cells presented HLA-I viral peptides derived predominantly from internal proteins. Primary dendritic cells presented predominantly viral envelope-derived HLA class II peptides following phagocytosis of apoptotic infected cells. The most frequent viral source protein for HLA-I and -II was matrix 1 protein (M1). This work confirms that internal influenza proteins, particularly M1, are a rich source of CD4+ and CD8+ T cell epitopes. Moreover, we demonstrate the utility of two ex-vivo fully human infection models which enable direct HLA-I and -II immunopeptide identification without significant viral tropism limitations. Application of this epitope discovery strategy in a clinical setting will provide more certainty in rational vaccine design against influenza and other emergent viruses.