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PLoS Pathog. 2016 Mar 4;12(3):e1005486. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1005486. eCollection 2016 Mar.

A Numerically Subdominant CD8 T Cell Response to Matrix Protein of Respiratory Syncytial Virus Controls Infection with Limited Immunopathology.

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Vaccine Research Center, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, United States of America.
Drexel University, Division of Infectious Diseases and HIV Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America.
Department of Pathology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, United States of America.
Center for AIDS Research, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, United States of America.


CD8 T cells are involved in pathogen clearance and infection-induced pathology in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection. Studying bulk responses masks the contribution of individual CD8 T cell subsets to protective immunity and immunopathology. In particular, the roles of subdominant responses that are potentially beneficial to the host are rarely appreciated when the focus is on magnitude instead of quality of response. Here, by evaluating CD8 T cell responses in CB6F1 hybrid mice, in which multiple epitopes are recognized, we found that a numerically subdominant CD8 T cell response against DbM187 epitope of the virus matrix protein expressed high avidity TCR and enhanced signaling pathways associated with CD8 T cell effector functions. Each DbM187 T effector cell lysed more infected targets on a per cell basis than the numerically dominant KdM282 T cells, and controlled virus replication more efficiently with less pulmonary inflammation and illness than the previously well-characterized KdM282 T cell response. Our data suggest that the clinical outcome of viral infections is determined by the integrated functional properties of a variety of responding CD8 T cells, and that the highest magnitude response may not necessarily be the best in terms of benefit to the host. Understanding how to induce highly efficient and functional T cells would inform strategies for designing vaccines intended to provide T cell-mediated immunity.

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