IFN-γ and IL-21 Double Producing T Cells Are Bcl6-Independent and Survive into the Memory Phase in Plasmodium chabaudi Infection

Victor H Carpio, Michael M Opata, Marelle E Montañez, Pinaki P Banerjee, Alexander L Dent, Robin Stephens
PloS One 2015, 10 (12): e0144654
CD4 T cells are required to fight malaria infection by promoting both phagocytic activity and B cell responses for parasite clearance. In Plasmodium chabaudi infection, one specific CD4 T cell subset generates anti-parasitic IFN-γ and the antibody-promoting cytokine, IL-21. To determine the lineage of these multifunctional T cells, we followed IFN-γ+ effector T cells (Teff) into the memory phase using Ifng-reporter mice. While Ifng+ Teff expanded, the level of the Th1 lineage-determining transcription factor T-bet only peaked briefly. Ifng+ Teff also co-express ICOS, the B cell area homing molecule CXCR5, and other Tfh lineage-associated molecules including Bcl6, the transcription factor required for germinal center (GC) T follicular helper cells (Tfh) differentiation. Because Bcl6 and T-bet co-localize to the nucleus of Ifng+ Teff, we hypothesized that Bcl6 controls the Tfh-like phenotype of Ifng+ Teff cells in P. chabaudi infection. We first transferred Bcl6-deficient T cells into wildtype hosts. Bcl6-deficient T cells did not develop into GC Tfh, but they still generated CXCR5+ IFN-γ+ IL-21+ IL-10+ Teff, suggesting that this predominant population is not of the Tfh-lineage. IL-10 deficient mice, which have increased IFN-γ and T-bet expression, demonstrated expansion of both IFN-γ+ IL-21+ CXCR5+ cells and IFN-γ+ GC Tfh cells, suggesting a Th1 lineage for the former. In the memory phase, all Ifng+ T cells produced IL-21, but only a small percentage of highly proliferative Ifng+ T cells maintained a T-bethi phenotype. In chronic malaria infection, serum IFN-γ correlates with increased protection, and our observation suggests Ifng+ T cells are maintained by cellular division. In summary, we found that Ifng+ T cells are not strictly Tfh derived during malaria infection. T cells provide the host with a survival advantage when facing this well-equipped pathogen, therefore, understanding the lineage of pivotal T cell players will aid in the rational design of an effective malaria vaccine.

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