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Nature. 2009 Jan 8;457(7226):196-9. doi: 10.1038/nature07486. Epub 2008 Nov 12.

Memory CD8 T-cell compartment grows in size with immunological experience.

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Department of Microbiology and Center for Immunology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455, USA.


Memory CD8 T cells, generated by natural pathogen exposure or intentional vaccination, protect the host against specific viral infections. It has long been proposed that the number of memory CD8 T cells in the host is inflexible, and that individual cells are constantly competing for limited space. Consequently, vaccines that introduce over-abundant quantities of memory CD8 T cells specific for an agent of interest could have catastrophic consequences for the host by displacing memory CD8 T cells specific for all previous infections. To test this paradigm, we developed a vaccination regimen in mice that introduced as many new long-lived memory CD8 T cells specific for a single vaccine antigen as there were memory CD8 T cells in the host before vaccination. Here we show that, in contrast to expectations, the size of the memory CD8 T-cell compartment doubled to accommodate these new cells, a change due solely to the addition of effector memory CD8 T cells. This increase did not affect the number of CD4 T cells, B cells or naive CD8 T cells, and pre-existing memory CD8 T cells specific for a previously encountered infection were largely preserved. Thus, the number of effector memory CD8 T cells in the mammalian host adapts according to immunological experience. Developing vaccines that abundantly introduce new memory CD8 T cells should not necessarily ablate pre-existing immunity to other infections.

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