Cytomegalovirus-Specific T Cell Epitope Recognition in Congenital Cytomegalovirus Mother-Infant Pairs

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Background: Congenital cytomegalovirus (cCMV) infection is the most common infection acquired before birth and from which about 20% of infants develop permanent neurodevelopmental effects regardless of presence or absence of symptoms at birth. Viral escape from host immune control may be a mechanism of CMV transmission and infant disease severity. We sought to identify and compare CMV epitopes recognized by mother-infant pairs. We also hypothesized that if immune escape were occurring, then one pattern of longitudinal CD8 T cell responses restricted by shared HLA alleles would be maternal loss (by viral escape) and infant gain (by viral reversion to wildtype) of CMV epitope recognition. Methods: The study population consisted of 6 women with primary CMV infection during pregnancy and their infants with cCMV infection. CMV UL83 and UL123 peptides with known or predicted restriction by maternal MHC class I alleles were identified, and a subset was selected for testing based on several criteria. Maternal or infant cells were stimulated with CMV peptides in the IFN-γ ELISpot assay. Results: Overall, 14 of 25 (56%; 8 UL83 and 6 UL123) peptides recognized by mother-infant pairs were not previously reported as CD8 T cell epitopes. Of three pairs with longitudinal samples, one showed maternal loss and infant gain of responses to a CMV epitope restricted by a shared HLA allele. Conclusions: CD8 T cell responses to multiple novel CMV epitopes were identified, particularly in infants. Moreover, the hypothesized pattern of CMV immune escape was observed in one mother-infant pair. These findings emphasize that knowledge of paired CMV epitope recognition allows exploration of viral immune escape that may operate within the maternal-fetal system. Our work provides rationale for future studies of this potential mechanism of CMV transmission during pregnancy or clinical outcomes of infants with cCMV infection.

Original languageEnglish
Article number568217
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
Publication statusPublished - Nov 24 2020


  • congenital infection
  • cytomegalovirus
  • epitope
  • immune escape
  • immunology
  • mother-infant pairs
  • T cell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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