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J Clin Invest. 2000 Feb;105(4):541-8.

Development of virus-specific CD4(+) T cells during primary cytomegalovirus infection.

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Renal Transplant Unit, Department of Medicine, Academic Medical Center, 1100 DE Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Although virus-specific CD4(+) T cells have been characterized extensively in latently infected individuals, it is unclear how these protective T-cell responses develop during primary virus infection in humans. Here, we analyzed the kinetics and characteristics of cytomegalovirus-specific (CMV-specific) CD4(+) T cells in the course of primary CMV infection in kidney transplant recipients. Our data reveal that, as the first sign of specific immunity, circulating CMV-specific CD4(+) T cells become detectable with a median of 7 days after first appearance of CMV-DNA in peripheral blood. These cells produce the T helper 1 type (Th1) cytokines IFNgamma and TNFalpha, but not the T helper 2 type (Th2) cytokine IL4. In primary CMV infection, the vast majority of these circulating virus-specific T cells have features of recently activated naive T cells in that they coexpress CD45RA and CD45R0 and appear to be in the cell cycle. In contrast, in people who have recovered from CMV infection earlier in life, virus-specific T cells do not cycle and express surface markers characteristic of memory T cells. After the initial rise, circulating virus-specific CD4(+) T cells decline rapidly. During this phase, a strong rise in IgM and IgG anti-CMV antibody titers occurs, concomitant with the reduction of CMV-DNA in the circulation.

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