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J Immunol. 2001 Jul 1;167(1):181-7.

Functional heterogeneity of cytokines and cytolytic effector molecules in human CD8+ T lymphocytes.

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  • 1Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94141, USA.


CD8(+) T cells use a number of effector mechanisms to protect the host against infection. We have studied human CD8(+) T cells specific for CMV pp65(495-503) epitope, or for staphylococcal enterotoxin B, for the expression patterns of five cytokines and cytolytic effector molecules before and after antigenic stimulation. Ex vivo, the cytolytic molecule granzyme B was detected in a majority of circulating CMV-specific CD8(+) T cells, whereas perforin was rarely expressed. Both were highly expressed after Ag-specific activation accompanied by CD45RO up-regulation. TNF-alpha, IFN gamma, and IL-2 were sequentially acquired on recognition of Ag, but surprisingly, only around half of the CMV-specific CD8(+) T cells responded to antigenic stimuli with production of any cytokine measured. A dominant population coexpressed TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma, and cells expressing TNF-alpha only, IFN-gamma only, or all three cytokines together also occurred at lower but clearly detectable frequencies. Interestingly, perforin expression and production of IFN-gamma and TNF-alpha in CD8(+) T cells responding to staphylococcal enterotoxin B appeared to be largely segregated, and no IL-2 was detected in perforin-positive cells. Together, these data indicate that human CD8(+) T cells can be functionally segregated in vivo and have implications for the understanding of human CD8(+) T cell differentiation and specialization and regulation of effector mechanisms.

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