14 hepatitis B vaccine recipients who showed high titers of anti-hepatitis B surface antibodies in serum after booster immunization with a polyvalent hepatitis B surface antigen vaccine that contained trace amounts of hepatitis B virus (HBV) preS1 and preS2 envelope antigens were studied for their in vitro T cell response to these antigens. All 14 subjects displayed a significant proliferative T cell response to the S/p25 envelope region encoded polypeptide; 8 also responded to preS1, while only 1 showed a significant level of T cell proliferation to preS2. Limiting dilution analysis demonstrated that the frequency of preS-specific T cells in two of these vaccine recipients was higher than that of S/p25-specific T cells. T cell cloning was then performed and a total of 29 HBV envelope antigen-reactive CD4+ cloned lines were generated from two preS-responsive vaccines. 21 of these lines were S/p25 specific, 7 preS1 specific, and 1 preS2 specific. Taken together, all these results suggest that the preS1 antigen may function as a strong T cell immunogen in man.
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