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Eur J Immunol. 2001 Oct;31(10):2951-9.

An abrupt and concordant initiation of apoptosis: antigen-dependent death of CD8+ CTL.

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Molecular Immunogenetics and Vaccine Research Section, Metabolism Branch, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892-1578, USA.


The ability of CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) to clear viral infections may be limited when high avidity CTL encounter supra-optimal antigen density on antigen-presenting cells (APC) and undergo antigen-dependent apoptosis of CTL (ADAC). Previously, we have shown ADAC in CD8+ populations to be Fas independent, TNF-alpha receptor 2 (TNFR2) mediated, caspase dependent, and accompanied by a decrease in Bcl-2. We now employ flow cytometry to follow ADAC within individual CD8+ cells to demonstrate that the intense TCR signal induced in high avidity CTL by supra-optimal antigen density results 8 - 16 h later in a caspase-independent TNFR2 down-modulation that is directly related to the stimulating APC antigen density and concludes in a rapid onset of apoptosis by 18 - 24 h. Individual CTL undergoing apoptosis exhibit a dramatic and concurrent: (1) positive staining with Annexin V and propidium iodide; (2) transformation to a smaller cell size characteristic of apoptosis; and (3) a nearly complete loss of Bcl-2, c-IAP1, and TRAF2. We conclude that the antigen-dependent apoptosis of CD8+ CTL occurs when a tandem TCR/TNFR2 signal initiates an abrupt and concordant onset of multiple apoptotic events.

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