Using genetically typed recombinant influenza A viruses that differ only in their genes for nucleoprotein, we have demonstrated that repeated stimulation in vitro of C57BL/6 spleen cells primed in vivo with E61-13-H17 (H3N2) virus results in the selection of a population of cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) whose recognition of infected target cells maps to the gene for nucleoprotein of the 1968 virus. Influenza A viruses isolated between 1934 and 1979 fall into two groups defined by their ability to sensitize target cells for lysis by these CTL: 1934-1943 form one group (A/PR/8/34 related) and 1946-1979 form the second group (A/HK/8/68 related). These findings complement and extend our previous results with an isolated CTL clone with specificity for the 1934 nucleoprotein (27, 28). It is also shown that the same spleen cells derived from mice primed with E61-13-H17 virus in vivo, but maintained in identical conditions by stimulation with X31 virus (which differs from the former only in the origin of its gene for NP) in vitro, results in the selection of CTL that cross-react on target cells infected with A/PR/8/1934 (H1N1) or A/Aichi/1968 (H3N2). These results show that the influenza A virus gene for NP can play a role in selecting CTL with different specificities and implicate the NP molecule as a candidate for a target structure recognized by both subtype-directed and cross-reactive influenza A-specific cytotoxic T cells.

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