Critical role for perforin-, Fas/FasL-, and TNFR1-mediated cytotoxic pathways in down-regulation of antigen-specific T cells during persistent viral infection

Shenghua Zhou, Rong Ou, Lei Huang, Demetrius Moskophidis
Journal of Virology 2002, 76 (2): 829-40
Viral persistence following infection with invasive strains of lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) can be achieved by selective down-regulation of virus-specific T lymphocytes. High viral burden in the onset of infection drives responding cells into functional unresponsiveness (anergy) that can be followed by their physical elimination. In this report, we studied down-regulation of the virus-specific CD8(+)-T-cell response during persistent infection of adult mice with LCMV, with emphasis on the role of perforin-, Fas/FasL-, or tumor necrosis factor receptor 1 (TNFR1)-mediated cytolysis in regulating T-cell homeostasis. The results reveal that the absence of perforin, Fas-ligand, or TNFR1 has no significant effect on the kinetics of proliferation and functional inactivation of virus-specific CD8(+) T cells in the onset of chronic LCMV infection. However, these molecules play a critical role in the homeostatic regulation of T cells, influencing the longevity of the virus-specific CD8(+)-T-cell population once it has become anergic. Thus, CD8(+) T cells specific to the dominant LCMV NP(396-404) epitope persist in an anergic state for at least 70 days in perforin-, FasL-, or TNFR1-deficient mice, but they were eliminated by day 30 in C57BL/6 controls. These effects were additive as shown by a deficit of apoptotic death of NP(396-404) peptide-specific CD8(+) T cells in mice lacking both perforin and TNFR1. This suggests a role for perforin-, FasL-, and TNFR1-mediated pathways in down-regulation of the antiviral T cell response during persistent viral infection by determining the fate of antigen-specific T cells. Moreover, virus-specific anergic CD8(+) T cells in persistently infected C57BL/6 mice contain higher levels of Bcl-2 and Bcl-XL than functionally intact T cells generated during acute LCMV infection. In the case of proapoptotic factors, Bax expression did not differ between T-cell populations and Bad was below the limit of detection in all samples. As expression of the Bcl-2 family members controls susceptibility to apoptosis, this finding may provide a molecular basis for the survival of anergic cells under conditions of prolonged antigen stimulation.

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