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J Immunol. 2003 Jul 1;171(1):27-31.

Cutting edge: rapid in vivo killing by memory CD8 T cells.

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Emory Vaccine Center and Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.


In this study, we examined the cytotoxic activity of effector and memory CD8 T cells in vivo. At the peak of the CTL response following an acute lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus infection, effector CD8 T cells exhibited extremely rapid killing and started to eliminate adoptively transferred target cells within 15 min by a perforin-dependent mechanism. Although resting memory CD8 T cells are poorly cytolytic by in vitro (51)Cr release assays, there was rapid elimination (within 1-4 h) of target cells after transfer into immune mice, and both CD62L(high) and CD62L(low) memory CD8 T cells were able to kill rapidly in vivo. Strikingly, when directly compared on a per cell basis, memory CD8 T cells were only slightly slower than effector cells in eliminating target cells. These data indicate that virus specific memory CD8 T cells can rapidly acquire cytotoxic function upon re-exposure to Ag and are much more efficient killers in vivo than previously appreciated.

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