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Although viral variants which are not recognized by epitope-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) have been shown to arise during a number of persistent virus infections, in many cases their significance remains controversial: it has been argued that the immune response is sufficiently plastic to contain their replication. In this review, we describe the mechanisms by which amino acid changes in viral proteins may affect epitope recognition by virus-specific CTL, and discuss the viral and immunological basis for the emergence of viral variants bearing such amino acid changes during infection. We then consider the impact that viral variation may have on the host CTL response and its ability to contain virus replication. We argue that the emergence of a viral variant demonstrates that it must have an in vivo replicative advantage, and that as such, the variant must tip the balance between virus replication and immune control somewhat in favor of the virus. Further, we suggest that although the immune response can evolve to recognize new viral epitopes, the CTL generated following such evolution frequently have a reduced ability to contain virus replication. We conclude that this escape mechanism likely does make a significant contribution to persistence/pathogenesis during a number of different virus infections.


Journal article


Immunol Rev

Publication Date





37 - 51


Amino Acid Sequence, Antigenic Variation, Antigens, Viral, Evolution, Molecular, Humans, Molecular Sequence Data, Peptides, T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic, Virus Diseases