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J Virol. 2012 Mar;86(5):2416-27. doi: 10.1128/JVI.06797-11. Epub 2011 Dec 28.

CD4 T cells promote CD8 T cell immunity at the priming and effector site during viral encephalitis.

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Department of Neurosciences, Lerner Research Institute, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland, Ohio, USA.


CD4 T cell activation during peripheral infections not only is essential in inducing protective CD8 T cell memory but also promotes CD8 T cell function and survival. However, the contributions of CD4 T cell help to antiviral CD8 T cell immunity during central nervous system (CNS) infection are not well established. Encephalitis induced by the sublethal coronavirus JHMV was used to identify when CD4 T cells regulate CD8 T cell responses following CNS infection. Peripheral expansion of virus-specific CD8 T cells was impaired when CD4 T cells were ablated prior to infection but not at 4 days postinfection. Delayed CD4 T cell depletion abrogated CD4 T cell recruitment to the CNS but only slightly diminished CD8 T cell recruitment. Nevertheless, the absence of CNS CD4 T cells was associated with reduced gamma interferon (IFN-γ) and granzyme B expression by infiltrating CD8 T cells, increased CD8 T cell apoptosis, and impaired control of infectious virus. CD4 T cell depletion subsequent to CD4 T cell CNS migration restored CD8 T cell activity and virus control. Analysis of γc-dependent cytokine expression indicated interleukin-21 (IL-21) as a primary candidate optimizing CD8 T cell activity within the CNS. These results demonstrate that CD4 T cells play critical roles in both enhancing peripheral activation of CD8 T cells and prolonging their antiviral function within the CNS. The data highlight the necessity for temporally and spatially distinct CD4 T cell helper functions in sustaining CD8 T cell activity during CNS infection.

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