Following infection of the H-2(d) mouse by lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, the newly generated cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) response is focused to a single 9-amino-acid peptide sequence (epitope) of the virus. More than 96% of the primary, secondary, and clonal CTL respond to this lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus nucleoprotein epitope. This unique system affords the opportunity to evaluate the T-cell response to a single viral CTL epitope in a case in which the outcome of infection, either viral clearance or host death, is mediated by the CTLs. Specifically, the molecular structure of the T-cell receptors (TCRs) of CTLs responding to this epitope was analyzed. By using an anchored polymerase chain reaction, the TCR chains of three CTL clones cDNAs were amplified, sequenced, and found to have unique V(α) or V(β) chains relative to each other as well as to lack restriction to any particular variable chain. These data indicate that the highly diverse antiviral CTL response is pleomorphic and probably provides an advantage to the host as it limits the emergence of viral variants that could more easily arise if the TCR response were homogeneous.
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