In order to clarify the role of cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) in hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, an HLA-B35-restricted cytotoxic T cell epitope of HCV was identified using a strategy called reverse immunogenetics. Twenty-eight of 53 HCV peptides carrying two anchor residues were selected as HLA-B*3501 binding peptides. These peptides were used to induce the specific cytotoxic T cells in peripheral blood lymphocytes from a patient with acute hepatitis C. Six HLA-B*3501 binding peptides induced the peptide-specific CTL. One (HPNIEEVAL) of five peptides was confirmed as the epitope by the specific T cell clones. A sequence identical to the epitope was detected in isolates of the virus from the patient and a strong CTL response to this epitope was observed in the acute phase of hepatitis C but not in the recovery phase. The specific CTL for this epitope were not detected in peripheral blood lymphocytes from patients with chronic hepatitis C. Together these results suggest that the CTL specific for this epitope have an important role in the elimination of the virus in the patient.


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