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J Virol. 1999 Mar;73(3):2527-36.

A role for perforin in downregulating T-cell responses during chronic viral infection.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90024, USA.


Cytotoxic T cells secrete perforin to kill virus-infected cells. In this study we show that perforin also plays a role in immune regulation. Perforin-deficient (perf -/-) mice chronically infected with lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) contained greater numbers of antiviral T cells compared to persistently infected +/+ mice. The enhanced expansion was seen in both CD4 and CD8 T cells, but the most striking difference was in the numbers of LCMV-specific CD8 T cells present in infected perf -/- mice. Persistent LCMV infection of +/+ mice results in both deletion and anergy of antigen-specific CD8 T cells, and our results show that this peripheral "exhaustion" of activated CD8 T cells occurred less efficiently in perf -/- mice. This excessive accumulation of activated CD8 T cells resulted in immune-mediated damage in persistently infected perf -/- mice; approximately 50% of these mice died within 2 to 4 weeks, and mortality was fully reversed by in vivo depletion of CD8 T cells. This finding highlights an interesting dichotomy between the role of perforin in viral clearance and immunopathology; perforin-deficient CD8 T cells were unable to clear the LCMV infection but were capable of causing immune-mediated damage. Finally, this study shows that perforin also plays a role in regulating T-cell-mediated autoimmunity. Mice that were deficient in both perforin and Fas exhibited a striking acceleration of the spontaneous lymphoproliferative disease seen in Fas-deficient (lpr) mice. Taken together, these results show that the perforin-mediated pathway is involved in downregulating T-cell responses during chronic viral infection and autoimmunity and that perforin and Fas act independently as negative regulators of activated T cells.

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