Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Immunology and Microbiology



First Thesis Advisor

Liisa K. Selin


Influenza A virus, Epstein Barr virus, T cell receptor repertoire, cross-reactivity


Acute viral infections induce CD8 memory T cells that play an important role in the protection of the host upon re-infection with the same pathogen. These virus epitope-specific memory CD8 T cells develop complex TCR repertoires that are specific for that epitope. As individuals age virus-specific immunity appears to wane. Older people have difficulty controlling infection with common viruses such as influenza A (IAV), a RNA virus which causes recurrent infections due to a high rate of genetic mutation, and Epstein Barr virus (EBV), a DNA virus which persists in B cells for life in the 95% of people that become acutely infected. Many factors may contribute to this waning immunity including changes in virus-specific TCR repertoires. We hypothesize that epitope-specific memory CD8 TCR repertoires to these two common viruses change with increasing age and that CD8 T cell cross-reactivity may be one of the mechanisms mediating these changes. To address this hypothesis in our first study, we compared epitope-specific CD8 memory TRBV repertoires directly ex vivo for these two common human viruses. In cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of EBV seropositive, HLA-A2+, young (18-22 years), middle age (25-59 years), and older (>60 years) donors, we demonstrated that CD8 memory TCR repertoires to three immunodominant epitopes, known to have cross-reactive responses, IAV-M158-66, EBV-BM280-288, and EBV-BR109-117 co-evolve as individuals age. Cross-sectional studies showed that IAV-M1-and both EBV-specific repertoires narrowed their TRBV usage by middle-age. In fact, narrowing of EBV-BM and EBV-BR-specific TRBV usage correlated with increasing age. Although narrowing of IAV-M1-specific TRBV did not directly correlate with increasing age there was clear evidence that the TRBV usage was changing with age. The dominant TRBV19 usage appeared to become bimodal in the older age group and interestingly TRBV30 usage did directly correlate with age. For the EBV epitope-specific responses there was preferential usage of particular TRBV and changes in the hierarchy of TRBV usage in the different age groups. Longitudinal studies tracking 3 donors over 10-15 years (middle age to older) showed that there were changes in the TCR repertoire of IAV-M1, EBV-BM and -BR-specific responses over time. In two of the donors who experienced acute IAV infection there was evidence these repertoire changes may be influenced by TCR cross-reactivity, which is enhanced during acute IAV infection. The results of this first ex vivo study are consistent with our hypothesis. They suggest that virus-specific TCR repertoires change over time as an individual ages leading to narrowing of the repertoire and may co-evolve in the presence of CD8 T cell cross-reactivity.

To further test our hypothesis in a second study we compared CD8 memory TRAV and TRBV repertoires to the three immunodominant epitopes IAV-M1, EBV-BM, and EBV-BR in the two extreme age groups, young donors (YSP) (18-22 years) and older donors (OSP) (>60 years) using the same donors as in the first study. Since these three epitopes are known to generate cross-reactive CD8 T cell responses and humans during their lifetime are frequently infected with both viruses at the same time these studies were also designed to more closely examine if TCR cross-reactivity could contribute to changes in TCR repertoire with increasing age. We examined the differences in both TRAV and TRBV in these two age groups by monoclonal antibody (mAb) staining and by deep sequencing and single cell sequencing in tetramer positive sorted cells from short-term cultures. Our initial studies showed that there were strong correlations in TRBV usage between short-term cultured and ex vivo antigen-specific responses; functional differences as well as differences in TRBV usage and diversity as measured by mAb staining particularly for the EBV epitope-specific responses between YSP and OSP donors. The TCR deep sequencing data also showed significant differences in TRBV usage between YSP and OSP. However, there were many more differences in TRAV and TRAJ usage than TRBV between the age groups suggesting that TRAV may play a greater role in evolution of the TCR repertoire. With increasing age, there was a preferential selection or retention of TCR for all three epitopes that have features in their CDR3a and b that increase their ease of generation, such as greater usage of convergent recombinant amino acids, and increase cross-reactive potential, such as multiple glycines. YSP and OSP differed in the patterns of TRAV/AJ and TRBV/BJ pairings and usage of dominant CDR3 motifs in all three epitope responses. Both YSP and OSP had cross-reactive responses between these 3 epitopes which were unique and differed from the cognate responses. Analyses of single cell sequencing data suggested that unique combinations of TRAV and TRBV are occurring, where one chain has features consistent with interaction with antigen one and the other chain had features consistent with interaction with antigen two. Interestingly, both the deep sequencing and single cell data show an increased tendency for the classic IAV-M1 specific clone BV19-IRSS-BJ2.7/AV27-CAGGGSQGNLIF-AJ42 to appear among the cross-reactive clones, suggesting that the dominance of this highly public clone may relate to its cross-reactivity with EBV. These results suggest that although OSP and YSP retain some of the classic TCR features for each epitope the TCR repertoire is gradually changing with age retaining TCR that are cross-reactive between these two common human viruses that we are exposed to frequently, one with recurrent infections and the other a persistent virus which frequently reactivates.

These results are highly supportive our hypothesis and their importance in relation to viral immune-pathogenesis and potential novel immunotherapies will be discussed. These studies further emphasize the complexity and potential importance of human virus-specific T cell responses and TCR repertoires as people age and the need for a better understanding of TCR cross-reactivity between different viruses. For instance, at the present time these studies are highly relevant to better understanding the immune-pathogenesis observed during the COVID19 pandemic.



Rights and Permissions

Copyright is held by the author, with all rights reserved.

Available for download on Tuesday, February 21, 2023