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Human herpesvirus diversity is altered in HLA class I binding peptides

Palmer WH, Telford M, Navarro A, Santpere G, Norman PJ


Herpesviruses are ubiquitous, genetically diverse DNA viruses, with long-term presence in humans associated with infrequent but significant pathology. Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I presents intracellularly derived peptide fragments from infected tissue cells to CD8+ T and natural killer cells, thereby directing antiviral immunity. Allotypes of highly polymorphic HLA class I are distinguished by their peptide binding repertoires. Because this HLA class I variation is a major determinant of herpesvirus disease, we examined if sequence diversity of virus proteins reflects evasion of HLA presentation. Using population genomic data from Epstein–Barr virus (EBV), human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), and Varicella–Zoster virus, we tested whether diversity differed between the regions of herpesvirus proteins that can be recognized, or not, by HLA class I. Herpesviruses exhibit lytic and latent infection stages, with the latter better enabling immune evasion. Whereas HLA binding peptides of lytic proteins are conserved, we found that EBV and HCMV proteins expressed during latency have increased peptide sequence diversity. Similarly, latent, but not lytic, herpesvirus proteins have greater population structure in HLA binding than nonbinding peptides. Finally, we found patterns consistent with EBV adaption to the local HLA environment, with less efficient recognition of EBV isolates by high-frequency HLA class I allotypes. Here, the frequency of CD8+ T cell epitopes inversely correlated with the frequency of HLA class I recognition. Previous analyses have shown that pathogen-mediated natural selection maintains exceptional polymorphism in HLA residues that determine peptide recognition. Here, we show that HLA class I peptide recognition impacts diversity of globally widespread pathogens.

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Palmer WH, Telford M, Navarro A, Santpere G, Norman PJ. Human herpesvirus diversity is altered in HLA class I binding peptides. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2022 May 3;119(18):e2123248119. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2123248119. Epub 2022 Apr 29. PMID: 35486690; PMCID: PMC9170163.