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Zika virus (ZIKV), a flavivirus with homology to dengue virus (DENV), is spreading to areas of DENV hyper-endemicity. Heterologous T cell immunity, whereby virus-specific memory T cells are activated by variant peptides derived from a different virus, can lead to enhanced viral clearance or diminished protective immunity and altered immunopathology. In mice, CD8+ T cells specific for DENV provide in vivo protective efficacy against subsequent ZIKV infection. In humans, contrasting studies report complete absence or varying degrees of DENV/ZIKV T cell cross-reactivity. Moreover, the impact of cross-reactive T cell recognition on the anti-viral capacity of T cells remains unclear. Here, we show that DENV-specific memory T cells display robust cross-reactive recognition of ZIKV NS3 ex vivo and after in vitro expansion in respectively n = 7/10 and n = 9/9 dengue-immune individuals tested. In contrast, cross-reactivity toward ZIKV capsid is low or absent. Cross-reactive recognition of DENV or ZIKV NS3 peptides elicits similar production of the anti-viral effector mediators IFN-γ, TNF-α, and CD107a. We identify 9 DENV/ZIKV cross-reactive epitopes, 7 of which are CD4+ and 2 are CD8+ T cell epitopes. We also show that cross-reactive CD4+ and CD8+ T cells targeting novel NS3 epitopes display anti-viral effector potential toward ZIKV-infected cells, with CD8+ T cells mediating direct lyses of these cells. Our results demonstrate that DENV NS3-specific memory T cells display anti-viral effector capacity toward ZIKV, suggesting a potential beneficial effect in humans of pre-existing T cell immunity to DENV upon ZIKV infection.

Original publication





Frontiers in immunology

Publication Date





Programme in Emerging Infectious Diseases, Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore, Singapore.


CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes, CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes, Cells, Cultured, Humans, Dengue Virus, Capsid, Dengue, Serine Endopeptidases, RNA Helicases, Viral Nonstructural Proteins, Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte, Cytokines, Cross Reactions, Immunologic Memory, Immunity, Heterologous, Zika Virus, Zika Virus Infection