Functional impairment of Tax-specific but not cytomegalovirus-specific CD8+ T lymphocytes in a minor population of asymptomatic human T-cell leukemia virus type 1-carriers

Ayako Takamori, Atsuhiko Hasegawa, Atae Utsunomiya, Yasuhiro Maeda, Yoshihisa Yamano, Masato Masuda, Yukiko Shimizu, Yotaro Tamai, Amane Sasada, Na Zeng, Ilseung Choi, Naokuni Uike, Jun Okamura, Toshiki Watanabe, Takao Masuda, Mari Kannagi
Retrovirology 2011, 8: 100

BACKGROUND: Human T-cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1) causes adult T-cell leukemia (ATL) and HTLV-1-associated myelopathy/tropical spastic paraparesis (HAM/TSP) in a small percentage of infected individuals. ATL is often associated with general immune suppression and an impaired HTLV-1-specific T-cell response, an important host defense system. We previously found that a small fraction of asymptomatic HTLV-1-carriers (AC) already showed impaired T-cell responses against the major target antigen, Tax. However, it is unclear whether the impaired HTLV-1 Tax-specific T-cell response in these individuals is an HTLV-1-specific phenomenon, or merely reflects general immune suppression. In this study, in order to characterize the impaired HTLV-1-specific T-cell response, we investigated the function of Tax-specific CD8+ T-cells in various clinical status of HTLV-1 infection.

RESULTS: By using tetramers consisting of HLA-A*0201, -A*2402, or -A*1101, and corresponding Tax epitope peptides, we detected Tax-specific CD8+ T-cells in the peripheral blood from 87.0% of ACs (n = 20/23) and 100% of HAM/TSP patients (n = 18/18) tested. We also detected Tax-specific CD8+ T-cells in 38.1% of chronic type ATL (cATL) patients (n = 8/21), although its frequencies in peripheral blood CD8+ T cells were significantly lower than those of ACs or HAM/TSP patients. Tax-specific CD8+ T-cells detected in HAM/TSP patients proliferated well in culture and produced IFN-γ when stimulated with Tax peptides. However, such functions were severely impaired in the Tax-specific CD8+ T-cells detected in cATL patients. In ACs, the responses of Tax-specific CD8+ T-cells were retained in most cases. However, we found one AC sample whose Tax-specific CD8+ T-cells hardly produced IFN-γ, and failed to proliferate and express activation (CD69) and degranulation (CD107a) markers in response to Tax peptide. Importantly, the same AC sample contained cytomegalovirus (CMV) pp65-specific CD8+ T-cells that possessed functions upon CMV pp65 peptide stimulation. We further examined additional samples of two smoldering type ATL patients and found that they also showed dysfunctions of Tax-specific but not CMV-specific CD8+ T-cells.

CONCLUSIONS: These findings indicated that Tax-specific CD8+ T-cells were scarce and dysfunctional not only in ATL patients but also in a limited AC population, and that the dysfunction was selective for HTLV-1-specifc CD8+ T-cells in early stages.

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