The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) nuclear antigen-1 (EBNA1) maintains the viral episome in all host cells infected with EBV. Recently, EBNA1 was found to be the main EBV latency antigen for CD4+ T cells and could be recognized in cultures from all donors tested. We now identify a polarized Th1 phenotype and obtain evidence for its presence in vivo. When T cells were stimulated with dendritic cells infected with vaccinia vectors expressing EBNA1, 18 of 19 donors secreted IFN-γ, whereas only two of 19 secreted IL-4. Magnetic selection was then used to isolate cells from fresh blood based on EBNA1-induced cytokine production. Specific IFN-γ CD4+ cell lines were established from six of six donors and IL-4 lines from three of six. Only the Th1 lines specifically lysed targets expressing three different sources of EBNA1 protein. When the IgG isotype of EBNA1 plasma Ab’s was tested, most specific Ab’s were IgG1 and of a high titer, confirming a Th1 response to EBNA1 in vivo. Ab’s to other microbial antigens generally were not skewed toward IgG1. Given emerging evidence that Th1 CD4+ T cells have several critical roles in host defense to viral infection and tumors, we propose that EBNA1-specific CD4+ Th1 cells contribute to resistance to EBV and EBV-associated malignancies.
Kara Bickham, Christian Münz, Ming Li Tsang, Marie Larsson, Jean-Francois Fonteneau, Nina Bhardwaj, Ralph Steinman