Efficient ex vivo analysis of CD4+ T-cell responses using combinatorial HLA class II tetramer staining

Uchtenhagen H, Rims C, Blahnik G, Chow IT, Kwok WW, Buckner JH, James EA.
Nat Commun. 2 016. 12614(7)


MHC tetramers are an essential tool for characterizing antigen-specific CD4+ T cells. However, their ex vivo analysis is limited by the large sample requirements. Here we demonstrate a combinatorial staining approach that allows simultaneous characterization of multiple specificities to address this challenge. As proof of principle, we analyse CD4+ T-cell responses to the seasonal influenza vaccine, establishing a frequency hierarchy and examining differences in memory and activation status, lineage commitment and cytokine expression. We also observe cross-reactivity between an established epitope and recent variant and provide a means for probing T-cell receptor cross-reactivity. Using cord blood samples, we correlate the adult frequency hierarchy with the naive precursor frequencies. Last, we use our combinatorial staining approach to demonstrate that rheumatoid arthritis patients on therapy can mount effective responses to influenza vaccination. Together, these results demonstrate the utility of combinatorial tetramer staining and suggest that this approach may have broad applicability in human health and disease.