Major histocompatibility complex (mhc)-encoded molecules govern immune responses by presenting antigenic peptides to T cells. The extensive polymorphism of genes encoding these molecules is believed to enhance immune defense by broadening the array of antigenic peptides available for T cell recognition, but direct evidence supporting the importance of this mechanism in combating pathogens is limited. Here we link mhc polymorphism-driven diversification of the cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) repertoire to the generation of high-avidity, protective antiviral T cells and to superior antiviral defense. Thus, much of the beneficial effect of the mhc polymorphism in immune defense may be due to its critical influence on the properties of the selected CTL repertoire.
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