Identification of immunodominant T cell epitopes induced by natural Zika virus infection

Christopher S. Eickhoff, Krystal A. Meza, Frances E. Terry, Chase G. Colbert, Azra Blazevic, Andres H. Gutiérrez, E. Taylor Stone, James D. Brien, Amelia K. Pinto, Hana M. El Sahly, Mark J. Mulligan, Nadine Rouphael, Maria L. Alcaide, Kay M. Tomashek, Chris Focht, William D. Martin, Leonard Moise, Anne S. De Groot, Daniel F. Hoft

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Zika virus (ZIKV) is a flavivirus primarily transmitted by Aedes species mosquitoes, first discovered in Africa in 1947, that disseminated through Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands in the 2000s. The first ZIKV infections in the Americas were identified in 2014, and infections exploded through populations in Brazil and other countries in 2015/16. ZIKV infection during pregnancy can cause severe brain and eye defects in offspring, and infection in adults has been associated with higher risks of Guillain-Barré syndrome. We initiated a study to describe the natural history of Zika (the disease) and the immune response to infection, for which some results have been reported. In this paper, we identify ZIKV-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T cell epitopes that induce responses during infection. Two screening approaches were utilized: an untargeted approach with overlapping peptide arrays spanning the entire viral genome, and a targeted approach utilizing peptides predicted to bind human MHC molecules. Immunoinformatic tools were used to identify conserved MHC class I supertype binders and promiscuous class II binding peptide clusters predicted to bind 9 common class II alleles. T cell responses were evaluated in overnight IFN-γ ELISPOT assays. We found that MHC supertype binding predictions outperformed the bulk overlapping peptide approach. Diverse CD4+ T cell responses were observed in most ZIKV-infected participants, while responses to CD8+ T cell epitopes were more limited. Most individuals developed a robust T cell response against epitopes restricted to a single MHC class I supertype and only a single or few CD8+ T cell epitopes overall, suggesting a strong immunodominance phenomenon. Noteworthy is that many epitopes were commonly immunodominant across persons expressing the same class I supertype. Nearly all of the identified epitopes are unique to ZIKV and are not present in Dengue viruses. Collectively, we identified 31 immunogenic peptides restricted by the 6 major class I supertypes and 27 promiscuous class II epitopes. These sequences are highly relevant for design of T cell-targeted ZIKV vaccines and monitoring T cell responses to Zika virus infection and vaccination.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1247876
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2023 Eickhoff, Meza, Terry, Colbert, Blazevic, Gutiérrez, Stone, Brien, Pinto, El Sahly, Mulligan, Rouphael, Alcaide, Tomashek, Focht, Martin, Moise, De Groot and Hoft.


  • EpiMatrix
  • JanusMatrix
  • T cell
  • Zika virus
  • epitopes
  • immunodominance
  • immunoinformatics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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