The regulatory immediate-early (IE) protein pp89 of murine cytomegalovirus induces CD8+ T lymphocytes that protect against lethal murine cytomegalovirus infection. The IE1 epitope is the only epitope of pp89 that is recognized by BALB/c cytolytic T lymphocytes (CTL). Using synthetic peptides, the optimal and minimal antigenic sequences of the IE1 epitope have been defined. To evaluate the predictive value of data obtained with synthetic peptides, recombinant vaccines encoding this single T-cell epitope were constructed using as a vector the hepatitis B virus core antigen encoded in recombinant vaccinia virus. In infected cells expressing the chimeric proteins, only IE1 epitope sequences that were recognized as synthetic peptides at concentrations lower than 10(-6) M were presented to CTL. Vaccination of mice with the recombinant vaccinia virus that encoded a chimeric protein carrying the optimal 9-amino-acid IE1 epitope sequence elicited CD8+ T lymphocytes with antiviral activity and, furthermore, protected against lethal disease. The results thus show for the first time that recombinant vaccines containing a single foreign nonameric CTL epitope can induce T-lymphocyte-mediated protective immunity
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