The hallmarks of the immune response to viral infections are the expansion of antigen-specific CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) after they encounter antigen-presenting cells in the lymphoid tissues and their subsequent redistribution to nonlymphoid tissues to deal with the pathogen. Control mechanisms exist within CTL activation pathways to prevent inappropriate CTL responses against disseminating infections with a broad distribution of pathogen in host tissues. This is demonstrated during overwhelming infection with the noncytolytic murine lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, in which clonal exhaustion (anergy and/or deletion) of CTLs prevents immune-mediated pathology but allows persistence of the virus. The mechanism by which the immune system determines whether or not to mount a full response to such infections is unknown. Here we present data showing that the initial encounter of specific CTLs with infected cells in lymphoid tissues is critical for this decision. Whether the course of the viral infection is acute or persistent for life primarily depends on the degree and kinetics of CTL exhaustion in infected lymphoid tissues. Virus-driven CTL expansion in lymphoid tissues resulted in the migration of large quantities of CTLs to nonlymphoid tissues, where they persisted at stable levels. Surprisingly, although virus-specific CTLs were rapidly clonally exhausted in lymphoid tissues under conditions of chronic infection, a substantial number of them migrated to nonlymphoid tissues, where they retained an effector phenotype for a long time. However, these cells were unable to control the infection and progressively lost their antiviral capacities (cytotoxicity and cytokine secretion) in a hierarchical manner before their eventual physical elimination. These results illustrate the differential tissue-specific regulation of antiviral T-cell responses during chronic infections and may help us to understand the dynamic relationship between antigen and T-cell populations in many persistent infections in humans.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science