Vaccination of pigs against Classical swine fever virus (CSFV) by using live-virus vaccines induces early protection before detectable humoral immune responses. Immunological analyses indicate that this is associated with T-cell activation, underlining the importance of targeting cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) responses for vaccine improvement. Antigen-presenting cells (APCs) transfected with mRNA encoding structural protein E2 or non-structural viral proteins NS3¿NS4A were used to identify viral genes encoding CTL epitopes. Monocyte-derived dendritic cells (DCs) and fibrocytes served as the APCs. In vitro translation of the mRNA and microscopic analysis of transfected cells demonstrated that E2 and NS3¿NS4A could be identified. APCs transfected with either of the mRNA molecules restimulated CSFV-specific T cells to produce gamma interferon and specific cytotoxic activity against CSFV-infected target cells. The presence of CTL epitopes on E2 was confirmed by using d/d-haplotype MAX cells expressing E2 constitutively as target cells in d/d-haplotype CTL assays. A potent CTL activity against E2 was detected early (1¿3 weeks) after CSFV challenge. This work corroborates the existence of CTL epitopes within the non-structural protein domain NS3¿NS4A of CSFV. Furthermore, epitopes on the E2 protein can also now be classified as targets for CTLs, having important implications for vaccine design, especially subunit vaccines. As for the use of mRNA-transfected APCs, this represents a simple and efficient method to identify viral genes encoding CTL epitopes in outbred populations
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