Nonresponsiveness to HBsAg vaccination is observed in 5-10% of vaccine recipients and is possibly caused by a defect in the T helper cell compartment. The immune response to HBsAg is influenced by genes of the major histocompatibility complex. We have investigated MHC class I and class II antigens in 53 adult responders and 73 nonresponders. Results obtained in this first study were tested in a second study with 56 responders and 62 nonresponders from an infant vaccination trial. In addition, the peripheral Vbeta-chain T-cell receptor repertoire was investigated using monoclonal antibodies and flow-cytometry in 26 adult responders and 38 nonresponders. As previously reported, nonresponsiveness to HBsAg vaccination was associated with DRB1*3 and DRB1*7. In addition, DRB1*13 was significantly increased among vaccine responders (35.2% vs 5.4%;p < 0.0001) suggesting an immune response promoting effect for this allele whereas the closely related allele DRB1*14 was associated with nonresponse in the infant study. There was no evidence for a hole in the T cell receptor Vbeta repertoire. In conclusion, in agreement with results obtained in mice there appears to be a hierarchy of DRB1* genes in the HBsAg immune response. The possible differential association of DRB1*13 and DRB1*14 may allow the identification of differences between responsiveness and nonresponsiveness to a few amino acid differences in the beta1-domain of the class II heterodimer.
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