Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a B lymphotropic herpesvirus of humans that elicits strong HLA class I-restricted cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) responses. An influence of such responses on virus evolution was first suggested by our finding that EBV isolates from the highly HLA A11-positive Papua New Guinea (PNG) population carried a lys-thr mutation at residue 424 of the nuclear antigen EBV-encoded nuclear antigen (EBNA4) that destroyed the immunodominant target epitope for A11-restricted CTL recognition. Here we turn to a much larger population, Southern Chinese, where the A11 allele is again present in over 50% of the individuals. Each of 23 EBV isolates analyzed from this population were also mutated in the EBNA4 416-424 epitope, the mutations selectively involving one of the two anchor residues in positions 2 (417 val-leu) or 9 (424 lys-asp, -arg or -thr) that are critical for A11-peptide interaction. The majority of the Chinese isolates and all 10 PNG isolates also carried mutations affecting positions 1 and 2 of the next most immunodominant A11-restricted epitope, EBNA4 residues 399-408. These changes clearly affected antigenicity since A11-positive lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs) carrying these mutant EBV strains were not recognized by A11-restricted CTLs raised against the prototype B95.8 virus. Furthermore, Chinese donors naturally infected with these mutant viruses did not mount detectable A11-restricted CTL responses on in vitro stimulation with autologous LCL cells carrying either the B95.8 or their endogenous EBV strain. In two different highly A11-positive populations, therefore, immune pressure appears to have selected for resident EBV strains lacking immunodominant A11-restricted CTL epitopes.

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