Cumulative T-cell receptor signal strength and ensuing T-cell responses are affected by both antigen affinity and antigen dose. Here we examined the distinct contributions of these parameters to CD4 T-cell differentiation during infection. We found that high antigen affinity positively correlates with T helper (Th)1 differentiation at both high and low doses of antigen. In contrast, follicular helper T cell (TFH) effectors are generated after priming with high, intermediate, and low affinity ligand. Unexpectedly, memory T cells generated after priming with very low affinity antigen remain impaired in their ability to generate secondary Th1 effectors, despite being recalled with high affinity antigen. These data challenge the view that only strongly stimulated CD4 T cells are capable of differentiating into the TFH and memory T-cell compartments and reveal that differential strength of stimulation during primary T-cell activation imprints unique and long lasting T-cell differentiation programs.
Chronic viral infections and malignant tumours induce T cells that have a reduced ability to secrete effector cytokines and have upregulated expression of the inhibitory receptor PD1 (programmed cell death protein 1). These features have so far been considered to mark terminally differentiated 'exhausted' T cells. However, several recent clinical and experimental observations indicate that phenotypically exhausted T cells can still mediate a crucial level of pathogen or tumour control. In this Opinion article, we propose that the exhausted phenotype results from a differentiation process in which T cells stably adjust their effector capacity to the needs of chronic infection. We argue that this phenotype is optimized to cause minimal tissue damage while still mediating a critical level of pathogen control. In contrast to the presently held view of functional exhaustion, this new concept better reflects the pathophysiology and clinical manifestations of persisting infections, and it provides a rationale for emerging therapies that enhance T cell activity in chronic infection and cancer by blocking inhibitory receptors.
Protection against reinfection is mediated by Ag-specific memory CD8 T cells, which display stem cell-like function. Because canonical Wnt (Wingless/Int1) signals critically regulate renewal versus differentiation of adult stem cells, we evaluated Wnt signal transduction in CD8 T cells during an immune response to acute infection with lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus. Whereas naive CD8 T cells efficiently transduced Wnt signals, at the peak of the primary response to infection only a fraction of effector T cells retained signal transduction and the majority displayed strongly reduced Wnt activity. Reduced Wnt signaling was in part due to the downregulation of Tcf-1, one of the nuclear effectors of the pathway, and coincided with progress toward terminal differentiation. However, the correlation between low and high Wnt levels with short-lived and memory precursor effector cells, respectively, was incomplete. Adoptive transfer studies showed that low and high Wnt signaling did not influence cell survival but that Wnt high effectors yielded memory cells with enhanced proliferative potential and stronger protective capacity. Likewise, following adoptive transfer and rechallenge, memory cells with high Wnt levels displayed increased recall expansion, compared with memory cells with low Wnt signaling, which were preferentially effector-like memory cells, including tissue-resident memory cells. Thus, canonical Wnt signaling identifies CD8 T cells with enhanced proliferative potential in part independent of commonly used cell surface markers to discriminate effector and memory T cell subpopulations. Interventions that maintain Wnt signaling may thus improve the formation of functional CD8 T cell memory during vaccination.
Antigen cross-presentation by dendritic cells is crucial for priming cytotoxic CD8(+) T cells to invading pathogens and tumour antigens, as well as mediating peripheral tolerance to self-antigens. The protein tyrosine phosphatase N2 (PTPN2) attenuates T cell receptor (TCR) signalling and tunes CD8(+) T cell responses in vivo. In this study we have examined the role of PTPN2 in the maintenance of peripheral tolerance after the cross-presentation of pancreatic ?-cell antigens. The transfer of OVA-specific OT-I CD8(+) T cells (C57BL/6) into RIP-mOVA recipients expressing OVA in pancreatic ?-cells only results in islet destruction when OVA-specific CD4(+) T cells are co-transferred. Herein we report that PTPN2-deficient OT-I CD8(+) T cells transferred into RIP-mOVA recipients acquire CTL activity and result in ? cell destruction and the development of diabetes in the absence of CD4(+) help. These studies identify PTPN2 as a critical mediator of peripheral T cell tolerance limiting CD8(+) T cell responses after the cross-presentation of self-antigens. Our findings reveal a mechanism by which PTPN2 SNPs might convert a tolerogenic CD8(+) T cell response into one capable of causing the destruction of pancreatic ?-cells. Moreover, our results provide insight into potential approaches for enhancing T cell-mediated immunity and/or T cell adoptive tumour immunotherapy.
A C1858T (R620W) variation in the PTPN22 gene encoding the tyrosine phosphatase LYP is a major risk factor for human autoimmunity. LYP is a known negative regulator of signaling through the T cell receptor (TCR), and murine Ptpn22 plays a role in thymic selection. However, the mechanism of action of the R620W variant in autoimmunity remains unclear. One model holds that LYP-W620 is a gain-of-function phosphatase that causes alterations in thymic negative selection and/or thymic output of regulatory T cells (Treg) through inhibition of thymic TCR signaling. To test this model, we generated mice in which the human LYP-W620 variant or its phosphatase-inactive mutant are expressed in developing thymocytes under control of the proximal Lck promoter. We found that LYP-W620 expression results in diminished thymocyte TCR signaling, thus modeling a "gain-of-function" of LYP at the signaling level. However, LYP-W620 transgenic mice display no alterations of thymic negative selection and no anomalies in thymic output of CD4(+)Foxp3(+) Treg were detected in these mice. Lck promoter-directed expression of the human transgene also causes no alteration in thymic repertoire or increase in disease severity in a model of rheumatoid arthritis, which depends on skewed thymic selection of CD4(+) T cells. Our data suggest that a gain-of-function of LYP is unlikely to increase risk of autoimmunity through alterations of thymic selection and that LYP likely acts in the periphery perhaps selectively in regulatory T cells or in another cell type to increase risk of autoimmunity.
Generating a diverse T cell memory population through vaccination is a promising strategy to overcome pathogen epitope variability and tolerance to tumor Ags. The effector and memory pool becomes broad in TCR diversity by recruiting high- and low-affinity T cells. We wanted to determine which factors dictate whether a memory T cell pool has a broad versus focused repertoire. We find that inflammation increases the magnitude of low- and high-affinity T cell responses equally well, arguing against a synergistic effect of TCR and inflammatory signals on T cell expansion. We dissect the differential effects of TCR signal strength and inflammation and demonstrate that they control effector T cell survival in a bim-dependent manner. Importantly, bim-dependent cell death is overcome with a high Ag dose in the context of an inflammatory environment. Our data define the framework for the generation of a broad T cell memory pool to inform future vaccine design.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) regulate the function of several immune cells, but their role in promoting CD8(+) T cell immunity remains unknown. Here we report that miRNA-155 is required for CD8(+) T cell responses to both virus and cancer. In the absence of miRNA-155, accumulation of effector CD8(+) T cells was severely reduced during acute and chronic viral infections and control of virus replication was impaired. Similarly, Mir155(-/-) CD8(+) T cells were ineffective at controlling tumor growth, whereas miRNA-155 overexpression enhanced the antitumor response. miRNA-155 deficiency resulted in accumulation of suppressor of cytokine signaling-1 (SOCS-1) causing defective cytokine signaling through STAT5. Consistently, enforced expression of SOCS-1 in CD8(+) T cells phenocopied the miRNA-155 deficiency, whereas SOCS-1 silencing augmented tumor destruction. These findings identify miRNA-155 and its target SOCS-1 as key regulators of effector CD8(+) T cells that can be modulated to potentiate immunotherapies for infectious diseases and cancer.
Gas-filled microbubbles (MB) are a very promising alternative to the currently evaluated lipid- or polymer-based particulate Ag delivery systems. We recently demonstrated the ability of MB to deliver associated Ag to DC, to activate them and thereby induce both humoral and cellular immune responses. We now extended the characterization of MB as antigen-delivery system by appraising the efficiency of MB-associated ovalbumin (OVA-MB) at protecting mice against pathogen infection. Ultrasound-mediated imaging demonstrated that the administration of OVA via MB generates a depot at the injection site that lasts for several hours. We found that OVA-MB injected subcutaneously is far more effective at inducing specific Ab and T cell immunity than immunization with free OVA. Moreover, a covalent link between MB and OVA causes a stronger bias towards a Th1-type of immune response than adsorption of the Ag or its covalent link to liposomes of the same lipid composition. Finally, vaccination of mice with OVA-MB partially protects against a systemic infection with OVA-expressing Listeria monocytogenes. The vaccine induces specific effector CD8 T cell responses capable of decreasing more than 100 fold the bacterial load. MB thus represent a potent Ag delivery system for vaccination against intracellular infectious agents.
CD40L is one of the key molecules bridging the activation of specific T cells and the maturation of professional and nonprofessional antigen-presenting cells including B cells. CD4(+) T cells have been regarded as the major T-cell subset that expresses CD40L upon cognate activation; however, we demonstrate here that a putative CD8(+) helper T-cell subset expressing CD40L is induced in human and murine CD8(+) T cells in vitro and in mice immunized with antigen-pulsed dendritic cells. IL-12 and STAT4-mediated signaling was the major instructive cytokine signal boosting the ability of CD8(+) T cells to express CD40L both in vitro and in vivo. Additionally, TCR signaling strength modulated CD40L expression in CD8(+) T cells after primary differentiation in vitro as well as in vivo. The induction of CD40L in CD8(+) T cells regulated by IL-12 and TCR signaling may enable CD8(+) T cells to respond autonomously of CD4(+) T cells. Thus, we propose that under proinflammatory conditions, a self-sustaining positive feedback loop could facilitate the efficient priming of T cells stimulated by high affinity peptide displaying APCs.
During chronic infection, pathogen-specific CD8(+) T cells upregulate expression of molecules such as the inhibitory surface receptor PD-1, have diminished cytokine production and are thought to undergo terminal differentiation into exhausted cells. Here we found that T cells with memory-like properties were generated during chronic infection. After transfer into naive mice, these cells robustly proliferated and controlled a viral infection. The reexpanded T cell populations continued to have the exhausted phenotype they acquired during the chronic infection. Thus, the cells underwent a form of differentiation that was stably transmitted to daughter cells. We therefore propose that during persistent infection, effector T cells stably differentiate into a state that is optimized to limit viral replication without causing overwhelming immunological pathology.
During an infection the antigen-nonspecific memory CD8 T cell compartment is not simply an inert pool of cells, but becomes activated and cytotoxic. It is unknown how these cells contribute to the clearance of an infection. We measured the strength of T cell receptor (TCR) signals that bystander-activated, cytotoxic CD8 T cells (BA-CTLs) receive in vivo and found evidence of limited TCR signaling. Given this marginal contribution of the TCR, we asked how BA-CTLs identify infected target cells. We show that target cells express NKG2D ligands following bacterial infection and demonstrate that BA-CTLs directly eliminate these target cells in an innate-like, NKG2D-dependent manner. Selective inhibition of BA-CTL-mediated killing led to a significant defect in pathogen clearance. Together, these data suggest an innate role for memory CD8 T cells in the early immune response before the onset of a de novo generated, antigen-specific CD8 T cell response.
Cytotoxic CD8 T cells mediate immunity to pathogens and they are able to eliminate malignant cells. Immunity to viruses and bacteria primarily involves CD8 T cells bearing high affinity T cell receptors (TCRs), which are specific to pathogen-derived (non-self) antigens. Given the thorough elimination of high affinity self/tumor-antigen reactive T cells by central and peripheral tolerance mechanisms, anti-cancer immunity mostly depends on TCRs with intermediate-to-low affinity for self-antigens. Because of this, a promising novel therapeutic approach to increase the efficacy of tumor-reactive T cells is to engineer their TCRs, with the aim to enhance their binding kinetics to pMHC complexes, or to directly manipulate the TCR-signaling cascades. Such manipulations require a detailed knowledge on how pMHC-TCR and co-receptors binding kinetics impact the T cell response. In this review, we present the current knowledge in this field. We discuss future challenges in identifying and targeting the molecular mechanisms to enhance the function of natural or TCR-affinity optimized T cells, and we provide perspectives for the development of protective anti-tumor T cell responses.
Adaptive immune responses are initiated when T cells encounter antigen on dendritic cells (DC) in T zones of secondary lymphoid organs. T zones contain a 3-dimensional scaffold of fibroblastic reticular cells (FRC) but currently it is unclear how FRC influence T cell activation. Here we report that FRC lines and ex vivo FRC inhibit T cell proliferation but not differentiation. FRC share this feature with fibroblasts from non-lymphoid tissues as well as mesenchymal stromal cells. We identified FRC as strong source of nitric oxide (NO) thereby directly dampening T cell expansion as well as reducing the T cell priming capacity of DC. The expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) was up-regulated in a subset of FRC by both DC-signals as well as interferon-? produced by primed CD8+ T cells. Importantly, iNOS expression was induced during viral infection in vivo in both LN FRC and DC. As a consequence, the primary T cell response was found to be exaggerated in Inos(-/-) mice. Our findings highlight that in addition to their established positive roles in T cell responses FRC and DC cooperate in a negative feedback loop to attenuate T cell expansion during acute inflammation.
The mechanism by which the immune system produces effector and memory T cells is largely unclear. To allow a large-scale assessment of the development of single naive T cells into different subsets, we have developed a technology that introduces unique genetic tags (barcodes) into naive T cells. By comparing the barcodes present in antigen-specific effector and memory T cell populations in systemic and local infection models, at different anatomical sites, and for TCR-pMHC interactions of different avidities, we demonstrate that under all conditions tested, individual naive T cells yield both effector and memory CD8+ T cell progeny. This indicates that effector and memory fate decisions are not determined by the nature of the priming antigen-presenting cell or the time of T cell priming. Instead, for both low and high avidity T cells, individual naive T cells have multiple fates and can differentiate into effector and memory T cell subsets.
In the real world, mice and men are not immunologically naive, having been exposed to numerous antigenic challenges. Prior infections sometimes negatively impact the response to a subsequent infection. This can occur in serial infections with pathogens sharing cross-reactive Ags. At the T cell level it has been proposed that preformed memory T cells, which cross-react with low avidity to epitopes presented in subsequent infections, dampen the response of high-avidity T cells. We investigated this with a series of related MHC class-I restricted Ags expressed by bacterial and viral pathogens. In all cases, we find that high-avidity CD8(+) T cell precursors, either naive or memory, massively expand in secondary cross-reactive infections to dominate the response over low-avidity memory T cells. This holds true even when >10% of the CD8(+) T cell compartment consists of memory T cells that cross-react weakly with the rechallenge ligand. Occasionally, memory cells generated by low-avidity stimulation in a primary infection recognize a cross-reactive epitope with high avidity and contribute positively to the response to a second infection. Taken together, our data show that the phenomenon of original antigenic sin does not occur in all heterologous infections.
After an infection, T cells that carry the CD8 marker are activated and undergo a characteristic kinetic sequence of rapid expansion, subsequent contraction and formation of memory cells. The pool of naive T-cell clones is diverse and contains cells bearing T-cell antigen receptors (TCRs) that differ in their affinity for the same antigen. How these differences in affinity affect the function and the response kinetics of individual T-cell clones was previously unknown. Here we show that during the in vivo response to microbial infection, even very weak TCR-ligand interactions are sufficient to activate naive T cells, induce rapid initial proliferation and generate effector and memory cells. The strength of the TCR-ligand interaction critically affects when expansion stops, when the cells exit lymphoid organs and when contraction begins; that is, strongly stimulated T cells contract and exit lymphoid organs later than weakly stimulated cells. Our data challenge the prevailing view that strong TCR ligation is a prerequisite for CD8(+) T-cell activation. Instead, very weak interactions are sufficient for activation, but strong TCR ligation is required to sustain T-cell expansion. We propose that in response to microbial challenge, T-cell clones with a broad range of avidities for foreign ligands are initially recruited, and that the pool of T cells subsequently matures in affinity owing to the more prolonged expansion of high-affinity T-cell clones.
The functional avidity is determined by exposing T-cell populations in vitro to different amounts of cognate antigen. T-cells with high functional avidity respond to low antigen doses. This in vitro measure is thought to correlate well with the in vivo effector capacity of T-cells. We here present the multifaceted factors determining and influencing the functional avidity of T-cells. We outline how changes in the functional avidity can occur over the course of an infection. This process, known as avidity maturation, can occur despite the fact that T-cells express a fixed TCR. Furthermore, examples are provided illustrating the importance of generating T-cell populations that exhibit a high functional avidity when responding to an infection or tumors. Furthermore, we discuss whether criteria based on which we evaluate an effective T-cell response to acute infections can also be applied to chronic infections such as HIV. Finally, we also focus on observations that high-avidity T-cells show higher signs of exhaustion and facilitate the emergence of virus escape variants. The review summarizes our current understanding of how this may occur as well as how T-cells of different functional avidity contribute to antiviral and anti-tumor immunity. Enhancing our knowledge in this field is relevant for tumor immunotherapy and vaccines design.
The strength of interactions between T cell receptors and the peptide-major histocompatibility complex (pMHC) directly modulates T cell fitness, clonal expansion, and acquisition of effector properties. Here we show that asymmetric T cell division is an important mechanistic link between increased signal strength, effector differentiation, and the ability to induce tissue pathology. Recognition of pMHC above a threshold affinity drove responding T cells into asymmetric cell division. The ensuing proximal daughters underwent extensive division and differentiated into short-lived effector cells expressing the integrin VLA-4, allowing the activated T cell to infiltrate and mediate destruction of peripheral target tissues. In contrast, T cells activated by below-threshold antigens underwent symmetric division, leading to abortive clonal expansion and failure to fully differentiate into tissue-infiltrating effector cells. Antigen affinity and asymmetric division are important factors that regulate fate specification in CD8(+) T cells and predict the potential of a self-reactive T cell to mediate tissue pathology.
Central and peripheral tolerance prevent autoimmunity by deleting the most aggressive CD8(+) T cells but they spare cells that react weakly to tissue-restricted antigen (TRA). To reveal the functional characteristics of these spared cells, we generated a transgenic mouse expressing the TCR of a TRA-specific T cell that had escaped negative selection. Interestingly, the isolated TCR matches the affinity/avidity threshold for negatively selecting T cells, and when developing transgenic cells are exposed to their TRA in the thymus, only a fraction of them are eliminated but significant numbers enter the periphery. In contrast to high avidity cells, low avidity T cells persist in the antigen-positive periphery with no signs of anergy, unresponsiveness, or prior activation. Upon activation during an infection they cause autoimmunity and form memory cells. Unexpectedly, peptide ligands that are weaker in stimulating the transgenic T cells than the thymic threshold ligand also induce profound activation in the periphery. Thus, the peripheral T cell activation threshold during an infection is below that of negative selection for TRA. These results demonstrate the existence of a level of self-reactivity to TRA to which the thymus confers no protection and illustrate that organ damage can occur without genetic predisposition to autoimmunity.
Over the last two decades the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying T cell activation, expansion, differentiation, and memory formation have been intensively investigated. These studies revealed that the generation of memory T cells is critically impacted by a number of factors, including the magnitude of the inflammatory response and cytokine production, the type of dendritic cell [DC] that presents the pathogen derived antigen, their maturation status, and the concomitant provision of costimulation. Nevertheless, the primary stimulus leading to T cell activation is generated through the T cell receptor [TCR] following its engagement with a peptide MHC ligand [pMHC]. The purpose of this review is to highlight classical and recent findings on how antigen recognition, the degree of TCR stimulation, and intracellular signal transduction pathways impact the formation of effector and memory T cells.
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