CD4 T cells orchestrate adaptive immune responses via binding of antigens to their receptors through specific peptide/MHC-II complexes. To study these responses, it is essential to identify protein-derived MHC-II peptide ligands that constitute epitopes for T cell recognition. However, generating cells expressing single MHC-II alleles and isolating these proteins for use in peptide elution or binding studies is time consuming. Here, we express human MHC alleles (HLA-DR4 and HLA-DQ6) as native, noncovalent αβ dimers on yeast cells for direct flow cytometry-based screening of peptide ligands from selected antigens. We demonstrate rapid, accurate identification of DQ6 ligands from pre-pro-hypocretin, a narcolepsy-related immunogenic target. We also identify 20 DR4-binding SARS-CoV-2 spike peptides homologous to SARS-CoV-1 epitopes, and one spike peptide overlapping with the reported SARS-CoV-2 epitope recognized by CD4 T cells from unexposed individuals carrying DR4 subtypes. Our method is optimized for immediate application upon the emergence of novel pathogens.
About The Expert
Elizabeth D Mellins