Codon optimization of the human papillomavirus E7 oncogene induces a CD8(+) T cell response to a cryptic epitope not harbored by wild-type E7


  • F.K.M. Lorenz
  • S. Wilde
  • K. Voigt
  • E. Kieback
  • B. Mosetter
  • D.J. Schendel
  • W. Uckert


  • PLoS ONE


  • PLoS ONE 10 (3): e0121633


  • Codon optimization of nucleotide sequences is a widely used method to achieve high levels of transgene expression for basic and clinical research. Until now, immunological side effects have not been described. To trigger T cell responses against human papillomavirus, we incubated T cells with dendritic cells that were pulsed with RNA encoding the codon-optimized E7 oncogene. All T cell receptors isolated from responding T cell clones recognized target cells expressing the codon-optimized E7 gene but not the wild type E7 sequence. Epitope mapping revealed recognition of a cryptic epitope from the +3 alternative reading frame of codon-optimized E7, which is not encoded by the wild type E7 sequence. The introduction of a stop codon into the +3 alternative reading frame protected the transgene product from recognition by T cell receptor gene-modified T cells. This is the first experimental study demonstrating that codon optimization can render a transgene artificially immunogenic through generation of a dominant cryptic epitope. This finding may be of great importance for the clinical field of gene therapy to avoid rejection of gene-corrected cells and for the design of DNA- and RNA-based vaccines, where codon optimization may artificially add a strong immunogenic component to the vaccine.