Trypanosoma cruzi currently infects 18 million people, and 30% of those infected develop a chronic inflammatory process that causes significant morbidity or mortality. The major histocompatibility complex class II (MHC-II)-restricted T-cell response is critical to the control of the infection and to the ensuing inflammatory pathology. The specific epitopes or major antigens of this response have not been identified. The parasite simultaneously expresses variant members of the trans-sialidase superfamily. To begin to analyze the MHC-II response to these variant proteins, the response to a single surface protein, SA85-1.1, was initiated. These studies have demonstrated that a biased gamma interferon (IFN-γ) response to the SA85-1.1 protein develops during T. cruzi infection. In addition, adoptive transfer of a CD4 clone that recognizes an SA85-1.1 epitope, named epitope 1, and immunization with a peptide encoding epitope 1 were protective and suggested that epitope 1 may be immunodominant. In this report IFN-γ intracellular staining demonstrated that splenocytes from acutely and chronically infected mice, incubated with SA85-1.1 protein or peptides that encode epitope 1, result in IFN-γ synthesis by 4 to 6% of the splenic CD4 cells. These data indicate that during T. cruzi infection epitope 1 is a major epitope and that 4 to 6% of the CD4 cells are stimulated by a single trans-sialidase superfamily epitope and suggest that a combination of trans-sialidase superfamily proteins combines to stimulate a majority of CD4 cells. These data suggest that during T. cruzi infection the CD4 response to the trans-sialidase superfamily is critical to the protective response and to the ensuing chronic inflammatory pathology
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