CD8 cytotoxic T cell (CTL) clones with specificity for defined minor and major histocompatibility (H) antigens were used to monitor antigen presentation in human cytomegalovirus (HCMV)-infected skin fibroblasts. At the immediate early stage of virus replication antigen presentation was intact, but was abolished during the early and late phase. Lack of CTL recognition was not selective for certain antigens but was associated with decreased steady state levels of nascent MHC class I complexes and unassembled MHC class I heavy chains, whereas free β-microglobulin remained abundant. HCMV also affected the stability of both immature endoglycosidase H (Endo H)-sensitive and mature Endo H-resistant MHC class I molecules, suggesting that the virus interferes with antigen presentation at more than one step during maturation of the MHC class I complex. The action of interferon-γ (IFN-γ) and tumour necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) lifted the block of MHC class I complex formation by stimulating synthesis, assembly and stability of MHC class I molecules. This resulted in restored antigen presentation provided that cells were exposed to the factors before HCMV infection. Because few MHC molecules suffice for CTL recognition these cytokines compensated for the negative viral effect on the antigen presentation function. Nevertheless, the viral interference with MHC class I complex formation was still active. The data imply that specific cytokines limit the immune evasion potential of HCMV from CD8 T lymphocyte control.


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