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J Immunol. 2006 Jan 1;176(1):507-15.

IL-15 regulates CD8+ T cell contraction during primary infection.

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Division of Host Defense, Medical Institute of Bioregulation, Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan.


During the course of acute infection with an intracellular pathogen, Ag-specific T cells proliferate in the expansion phase, and then most of the T cells die by apoptosis in the following contraction phase, but the few that survive become memory cells and persist for a long period of time. Although IL-15 is known to play an important role in long-term maintenance of memory CD8+ T cells, the potential roles of IL-15 in CD8+ T cell contraction are not known. Using an adoptive transfer system of OT-I cells expressing OVA257-264/Kb-specific TCR into control, IL-15 knockout (KO) and IL-15 transgenic (Tg) mice followed by challenge with recombinant Listeria monocytogenes expressing OVA, we found that the survival of CD44+CD62L-CD127- effector OT-I cells during the contraction phase is critically dependent on IL-15. In correlation with the expression level of Bcl-2 in OT-I cells, the number of OT-I cells was markedly reduced in IL-15 KO mice but remained at a high level in IL-15 Tg mice during the contraction phase, compared with control mice. In vivo administration of rIL-15 during the contraction phase in IL-15 KO mice inhibited the contraction of effector OT-I cells accompanied by up-regulation of Bcl-2 expression. Furthermore, enforced expression of Bcl-2 protected the majority of effector OT-I cells from death in IL-15 KO mice after infection. These results suggest that IL-15 plays a critical role in protecting effector CD8+ T cells from apoptosis during the contraction phase following a microbial infection via inducing antiapoptotic molecules.

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